It’s oft said that we live in an information age, but to what end? In an era of blogging, microblogging, and all manner of social networking we are bombarded with a certain type of information, but when was the last you sat down and read a book from cover to cover? For many of us the answer to that question is, a very long time indeed.
Without doubt, in what is known as fragmented reading, we are now accustomed to reading bite-size nuggets of text on Weibo, Wechat or whatever other banal platform takes our fancy. According to “Fragmented Reading: Why it became a major way of reading?”, a recent survey on Chinese reading habits showed that fragmented reading took up the vast majority of respondent’s reading time, and those who were accustomed to this way of reading demonstrated a decline in their powers of concentration.
In 2012, Chinese writer and Weibo celebrity 和菜头 stated that he was going to stop tweeting: “I suspect this fragmented reading on microblogs might damage my brain, (I am) worried that I can’t read deeply or read anymore. If I don’t write my microblog, I am still who I am; however, if I can’t read, I am nothing. Meanwhile, microblog reading makes people irritable, easily aggressive, credulous, unable to concentrate, and I think I’d better face the wall for some time.”
Pretentious musing on the nature of existence aside, he has a point, and his article “Fragmented Survival” infers that the master architect of our inability to function comes down to years of fragmented reading. Microblog reading lets our eyes jump quickly between various pieces text, never spending too much time on any one particular piece of information. He described the effects in detail:
“I have to tell you the truth: I felt I don’t know how to read. It doesn’t mean that I lose my comprehension ability, nor that I’m tired of reading. Comprehension ability and emotions are irrelevant; it seems a physiological disease, which is powerlessness in a part of myself. I even cannot finish a section, as my eyes turn away uncontrolled… In addition, my greatest fear is that of my attention, like a snake made by mercury, it cannot remain still and stay on a page. It constantly moves between different pages and countless ideas, trying to establish a link between two unrelated points. And most of the time, such efforts are futile and mind-wasting and make people feel tired.”
Many people, no doubt, have reported similar difficulties to concentrate and connect ideas. Two reading styles are often compared. The deep and effective reading that requires strong concentration. In general this is a long and continuous process, accompanied by silence and contemplation. However, fragmented reading needs people to respond immediately, as 和菜头 says: “In Chaplin’s film Modern Times, the industrial workers repeat the same action on the assembly line for more than ten hours. At the moment, we are faced with fragmented information, every day and every week, we are waiting to react.”
However, there are those that have held up fragmented reading as a useful tool. In an article “What Will Fragmented Reading Bring to You”, the author holds the opinion fragmented reading has become the leisure and recreational reading style of the people, which is also part of an inevitable choice towards more media pluralism, and that this is a crucial feature of cultural diversity. Aside from interesting content, the social, political, economic and other aspects of information can enter people’s reading habits, albeit in this new fragmented way. Accordingly, fragmented reading is seen to greatly enrich people’s reading space, changing people’s reading habits and even developing their spiritual life. As far-fetched as this seems, surely fragmented reading is better than a certain age-old problem, no-reading?
Moreover, “Fragmented Reading, Do You Really Think So?” gave us another fresh perspective and positive spin on fragmented reading: “while people are seemingly reading, in fact they have now added the requirement of social sharing. For example, when people read a good article and gain information, their first reaction is to share it on their friend circle or microblog group, because we are waiting for a sense of identity; essentially, we want to be ‘liked’.”
Whether fragmented reading is destroying our attentions spans and capacity to think, or supercharging us with an ability to reach out and connect with each other, sharing information, thoughts and feelings like never before is a question that will no doubt be studied and looked at over time. But one thing is not in question and that is that fragmented reading is set to grow and become a bigger part of our reading lives, both for ourselves and future generations.
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