Wednesday, September 20, 2006
The new thing for the web: paper
Last month The Onion started publishing an actual weekly paper, and (the best part) it's free (like LA Weekly or City Beat). Sure, it has ads, but that's fine; finally I will have something to peruse at lunch that I would read even if it wasn't free. (The weekly rags are not without their interesting sections, but they're on my radar because they're convenient--available on street corners around downtown--not because they're the epitome of entertainment and/or information.)
I must admit I rarely remember to check the Onion's website, even though I know I would find it entertaining if I did. Not everything there is great, but it's at least reasonably funny. And by virtue of having not read the website, what gets printed in the newsprint edition is new to me when it comes out.
I am too old school in my reading habits, relying still on the printed page. Heck, sometimes I'll even print out entries from what I do "read" online to read when I'm on the train or at lunch.
I'm not sure whether it's a matter of the computer monitor being a less-than-ideal conduit for reading material, or that when at the computer one feels compelled to do something (engage in an activity requiring interaction) and so it becomes more difficult to wrap the mind around merely reading words. Perhaps it's a matter of being accustomed to reading from books or magazines and needing to readjust to reading online. With email, for example, that has only ever been on the computer, so reading that there creates no need to reconcile anything in the mind about what one is doing and the medium on which one is doing it.
As far as I can tell, there are those who are inclined to read text-heavy pieces on the screen (be they websites or manuals or documents and there are those who aren't. I'm not sure what makes one more likely to be one or the other. It may be fascination with technology that gives one a greater proclivity toward the former. For the latter, I imagine it may revolve more around the tactile satisfaction derived from turning the page with what's printed on paper. There's that tiny sense of accomplishment by having made it through another 250 or so words; it's not the same as finishing the piece, of course, but there's some semblance of milestone having been reached along the way.
There's no way to put slip of paper between pages to mark how far one has read when one is reading on a screen. (And any technological methods for approximating that simply aren't the same.)
It is inevitable that as the medium for reading changes more and more to being a computer screen (particularly in a web-based format) rather than being paper (be it newsprint or glossy or 8.5 x 11 white), the style in which what is written will change. That is, because it's more difficult to read longer pieces on a monitor (perhaps because one is not inclined, but also because it's trickier to keep one's place), what is written will become more succinct. Certainly that has already started, but I'm talking about the long-term ramifications of that. It has been argued that television has had the effect of reducing our attention span; might the expansion of "publishing" only to the web, not on paper, cause us to fail to be able to read anything longer than a few paragraphs?
(And oh boy, how screwed will I be then! No one will even get this far.)
Might it change the way writing is taught in schools? It seems impossible it wouldn't have some effect on the educational system. (I'd rather not consider that in depth now, because I can sense you're already fading this deep into this post.)
This is not a good era for me, and it will only get worse. Yet I try to adapt. Here's what I'll do: Keep blathering on, but try to not blather quite so much. And here's what I suggest you do:
Print out these posts, and read them during your lunch. It's a compromise for this new paradigm, into which it's questionable how well I'll fit, but I'll try.
And recycle the paper when you're done! Never let it be said I have no concern for the future, even though the one that internet is steering us toward is destroying my readership's ability to pay attention to the end. While, admittedly, simultaneously facilitating that readership.
Ah, the irony.