Is technology bad for reading?

I can’t stop thinking about how technology is making me crazy. While riding the bus to NYC recently and thinking about my large, overwhelming reading list on my Kindle, it occurred to me I had to first check email, then look something up online, where I found an article I’d been meaning to read, which led to a twitter and Facebook check, and so on. Before long the tunnel is approaching and I’ve reached my destination without opening my Kindle. Sound familiar?

I know I’m not the only one who suffers from Technostress, a word coined by my client Dr. Larry Rosen in his 1997 book by the same name. Even back then, he writes “The constant stream of incoming and outgoing messages means that businesspeople end up spending more time trying to communicate than actually doing.” In his upcoming book iDisorder he looks into how technology really can dramatically increase the likelihood of exhibiting sometimes severe psychological symptoms related to the stress brought on by technology in our lives. Sure it makes a lot of things better, easier, more efficient and all that, but it also makes us distracted, disengaged, and often unable or unwilling to take a real break which is bad for our bodies and our brains. A piece by Nicholas Carr from The Atlantic a few years back called Is Google Making Us Stupid? talks more about what technology has done to our reading culture, and it’s not good and certainly hasn’t gotten better with time.

So, I’m wondering where your thoughts are as the reading public. Do you think people are reading fewer books because they are more distracted by technology, or are they reading more books because of the ease that technology brings to reading by offering books anywhere, anytime with the click of a button? Do you read more books now than you did 5 years ago? And if you do, is that because of the easier access technology brings to reading? Have your reading habits stayed the same and you still go out to a bookstore or library every time you want to get a new book just as you did before? Or do you read fewer books because, well, there’s just so much else to do? And what about book length? Has a compromised attention span made shorter books more appealing?

Personally, I struggle with it. I read a lot and have to for work, and instead of printing out manuscripts, I now read them on my e-reader, which is great. But, if there’s a new book I want to buy (and I do buy books, often), I usually order a hard copy to have on my shelf or my bedside table.

As far as actually reading the books, and how that’s changed, I am definitely more splintered in my attention and have to be disciplined in planning my reading time—a lot more than before. I think this is in part due to technology trying to draw me back in to the vortex of my digital devices, and in part because I have 4 little kids who demand my time and attention (unless, of course, we give them our iPad which keeps them quiet for hours!). I do my best reading after hours in the comfort of my bed when I’ve put my phone and computer to sleep and can focus on a book or a manuscript, or usually several at once.

I’ll sign off and go grab my Kindle. Manuscripts and proposals beckon; there are books to be read!

16 Responses to Is technology bad for reading?

  1. anonymous says:

    I don’t have a cell phone, but I have the internet and I can see a definite change in my attention span. I used to be able to read for hours straight. Now, after about an hour, I find myself checking email. I don’t like it, but I have trouble stopping myself. I think it’s a bit of an addiction.

    One way I’ve tried to combat it, which only sort of works, is I leave my computer in my writing cabin after I’ve finished work for the day. If I want to check email, I literally have to go outside (often in the rain), unlock my cabin, and go into a freezing room and fire everything up. This has caused me to cut back, for sure, but not to the extent I’d like it to. I’m working on it though. I also shut it down completely around eight o’clock so that in order to check, I would actually have to reboot.

    Ideally, I’d check email in the morning, block it while I write, check at the end of my day & answer emails, and then shut it down around 3pm. Hmmm…it’s 3:07pm. Should I try it and post tomorrow about how it worked? Why not?!

    • Kim Smith says:

      Okay… So, I’ve a question for you: Do you feel BLOGS are worth our times as writers?

      Thinking of posting a few recordings, excerpts, and essays; but, the thought of “my blah blah blog” for the day feels time consuming.

      Grateful for “others” who agent/publish and the like having their connectivity – but I just can’t bring myself to “BLOG”.

  2. Tamara says:

    Definitely, technology detracts from reading time – partly because it fulfills our entertainment quota, but also and maybe more importantly in that, like a honeybee, we never settle long enough in one place to focus on one thing. It’s not that we can’t. It’s just that we’re not in the habit.

    And don’t get me started on how detrimental that is to writing. You (I)need a calm quiet interior space for writing, and technology and the internet are most often the direct opposite. Like anonymous says.

    What do you want to do today? Focus on your deepest hopes and fears? Or see what Snooki is up to?

    • Tamara says:

      PS Could you imagine standing and listening to three-hour speeches shouted from a podium like they did back in the day? A different pace of life, to be sure.

  3. Gill Avila says:

    I’m still trying to figure out how my kindle works!

  4. Sarah Henson says:

    Technology is definitely distracting. I have a routine I’ve (unfortunately) settled into before I get any real reading done. Check email, check facebook, check words with friends, read. Even then every time the green light on my phone blinks I have the compulsion to check it. It’s the same for writing–too many distractions = not enough time devoted to writing.

    I don’t use an e-reader though. The distractions would drive me crazy! Plus, there’s just nothing like walking through bookstores skimming titles. I can’t imagine a future where all my book purchases would have to be made online (shudders). My husband, however, loves his Kindle, but it’s just a regular old Kindle so all he does on it is read.

  5. I’m probably the rare exception in that I find myself reading more and longer books ever since getting my Kindle (a regular old one, dedicated to reading, no bells and whistles to distract me). I’m not sure why I read more on my Kindle, but suspect that it may have something to do with being able to make the font a comfortable size and not being able to flip ahead to see when a chapter ends. I also like being able to buy a book when I first think of it, which usually occurs after I’ve read an intriguing review or if I’m working on a project and realize I need to know more about a certain subject. While impulse buys are generally a bad thing when it comes to most situations, impulse buying and books is a match made in cyber-heaven.

    As far as all the distractions associated with email, etc., I just shut off the wireless on my laptop and treat it as my dedicated writing machine. I understand that Jonathon Franzen has taken it a step further, by pouring Super Glue into the internet port on his computer. In other words, just say “No.” (Of course, this doesn’t apply to reading blogs as fun as DGLM’s.)

  6. Between my “social media” stuff as an author, my Android, and my iPad, I feel like I’m pulled in a lot of directions. So it has been challenging. I’ve had to cut way back on blog reading, etc. over the past year so that I can get my word count goal done each day. (but here I am, reading your blog–of course it’s totally worth it). I have tried to keep up with reading regular books, and the Kindle makes it so convenient. Although there are times, when I turn everything off just to hold a read book in my hands and do some good old-fashioned reading :-)

  7. anonymous says:

    I’m back. I turned off the computer right after my initial post and did not turn it back on until this morning. I checked email and then blocked it while I wrote. And guess what? I liked it. I don’t think I’ll do it every day, but it was definitely worth doing and I’m probably going to do it today too. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be either.

  8. Ryan Field says:

    iDisorder sounds interesting. Sometimes you really do have to say, “enough.” I’m taking a break :)

  9. Kaitlyne says:

    I can one hundred percent guarantee that the internet has decreased my amount of reading in a very, very significant way. I was one of those kids who always had a book in my hand and I read dozens a year. Now I’m doing good to read a dozen.

    I’ve actually made an effort this year to read more, which has meant spending less time online, and while I’ve succeeded, I still spend more time checking for news articles on Yahoo than is anywhere near reasonable. I also am someone who doesn’t have a blog, doesn’t use Twitter, and who avoids social networking, so even in spite of not having those particular distractions, I still find myself lacking for time.

    If I don’t make a very conscious effort to pull myself away from it, then I find myself having spent an entire day having done nothing of substance. I’m working on it, but part of my strategy is to just avoid the things that I know will make it worse. It may not make me any friends (I’ve been amazed at how often I haven’t been invited to get-togethers because I’m not on Facebook–people won’t just call or send an email anymore), but it keeps me a little more sane.

  10. It’s sad, but I think I read fewer books than I used to, even though there are more I want to read. There is just so much more on the Internet these days that I feel I have to keep up on–news, blogs, etc., in addition to social networks–and it impairs time I might have spent reading a good book. And it’s tiring. Sometimes I just have to cut out for a few days, but then I come back always feeling behind. I’m hoping we’re still in the period where we’re all, as a culture, getting used to new technology, and it will settle down and become a background part of our lives.

  11. Stacey says:

    Thanks to all of you for the thoughtful, insightful comments. I think the consensus is we all have to work a lot harder to read books, and that’s too bad.

    The good news is that there are many of us still trying very hard to bring books of value to the marketplace so that there are a wide variety of wonderful options to choose from.

    And I think it’s so critical to stress reading and the importance of books to kids. That’s really where it all begins, and teaching them to appreciate, enjoy and love books is the best way to ensure future generations of book readers.

    Kids learn by example, so parents, read up!

  12. Stacey says:

    Hi Kim, sorry I missed your question earlier. It’s a good one and I think a lot of writers struggle with the concept of blogging. My advice is it depends. For nonfiction, it’s mandatory. For fiction, I think it helps if you are committed to it, enjoy it, and feel you can focus the time and energy it requires to make it valuable. To do it just for the sake of doing it isn’t effective and could have the opposite result. And there are other types of social media that you can spend time developing that could have the same or better results. We’ve blogged about this before, so check it out http://www.dystel.com/2011/08/is-blogging-worth-it/ and happy blogging if you choose to do it!

  13. Velvet and lace go great together. Your hair is very long now and I discovered that you are wearing black, red and white colours these days (in your recent posts) , how about more colorful combinations eg pinks, jewel tones and brights :) ? They suit you very well also. And I love the light in your house a lot, very bright and sunny for taking photos.

  14. here says:

    I love your wp design, where did you get a hold of it?

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