Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Age Reading Habits

As a teacher, I've found more and more evidence of a behavior that has me both frustrated and a bit angry. I see these young adults struggling to sustain even a modicum of attention to reading. Now, I know some of you will question: aren't all teens restless and constantly moving from one task to another? Well, yes they are. And the revelation as to why (or at least a major part of that reason) boinked me on the head with a great big DUH! and cried, "It's all that new-age technology, dummy!"

It made sense, even if I didn't like what I was hearing. Kids have the attention span of an ant, or at least a good many of them do. I've watched them cruising the Internet, switch web pages as quickly and often as my hubby switches channels on TV. With all that glowing glitter and glitz shining and speeding in front their eyes, what hope is there for plain pages with black print, and line after line of literary prose? Several paragraphs into page one, give or take a few, and they are nodding off, floating away, their minds totally gone from the book in front of them. If you don't believe it, read these words from Mark Dykeman: "There's no doubt that the way we read
Web pages, and our on-line content preferences, have a major impact on what we read, how long we read, and how attentively we read when on-line." THE EFFECTS OF THE INTERNET ON READING HABITS

You mean it's not just the kids? (Seriously, do you think adults are immune to all that the Internet has to give? Not to mention all the video games out there to amuse us.) Well, welcome to the new-age technology. And it's not going away.

Okay, so after this rather lengthy intro, I'm going to go to where I was heading in the first place. After all, this is a blog about writing.

If reading habits have changed, does this mean what you write should change? Should authors be thinking in terms of what will appeal to those attention-deficit readers? And how exactly should they do this? Well, you can write that action-packed, fast paced adventure. Or use the let's-make-chapters-short-and-sweet format. Two or three pages tops, then you're on to the next. Just ask James Patterson. It works for him. Maybe shorter novels to appeal to the e-reader crowd could be your choice. Is the idea driving you crazy, yet? It almost sounds like giving in, doesn't it? I mean, the idea of writing an instant soup version of what could otherwise be the next masterpiece, like a Hemingway or Steinbeck or (place your mentor author here) seems sacrilegious.

Well, let's face facts. If you are writing to get published and sell books, you have to appeal to the market. However, if you write for art's sake, and publishing isn't your prime objective, then stay the course. Write what you want, how you want, and of course, how MUCH you want. Just don't expect MY students to read it! Seriously, it's a difficult decision, deciding what will sell, what editors, publishers, and agents will like. Then again, nobody said it would be easy, did they?

So, do you think readers have changed their habits? Should writers change along with them? And how do feel about what you write? Let me hear your thoughts.


April said...

Reading habits have changed, but I'm not sure if it's a short attention span so much as an aversion to prose and philosophical thought. After all, 500-page fantasy novels are still flying off shelves last I checked. But try to convince a student to read a passage from Dickens or The Iliad? Impossible. They just hate picking through the language and being faced with questions of conscience. I once tried to teach Frost to 9th graders, and it was pulling teeth. "He's so depressing!" they said. "All he talks about is death!" Their response to Poe was the same. E. E. Cummings was labeled unintelligible idiot babel. Sad.

I think when it comes to writing in this day and age, prose needs to be a bit more raw, clean, and straightforward. No messing around, no going off on tangents. This isn't necessarily a bad way to write. Some powerful and interesting verbs along with some creatively turned phrases can make for some rich, hard-hitting composition. Writing and teaching literature in the technological age is unbelievably challenging, but if we can adapt--rather than give up--I believe we can successfully educate the young.

teacherwriter said...

Well put, April. I will have to admit that I love the fast-paced novels of mystery and suspense. I gobble them up! Yet, every once in awhile I want something more, something to sink my teeth into, chew it a bit, and then digest. But that's me. And I have to say I have a few students here and there who love reading. When we have silent reading time in class, and I finally call a halt to it, those are the students who will say, "Can't we read a bit longer?"

I agree that there will always be a place for great literary work because there will always be those who still love reading them. Bestsellers? Probably not. Yet, staying true to oneself seems an honorable behavior.