Sunday, January 27, 2013

Reading and the Web: a Conundrum

I am not an avid Twitter user. In fact, I've always kind of scoffed at the idea. Who cares where I am, what I'm doing or what pithy little saying I can come up with in 140 characters or less? (I'm wordy, people. It takes me at least 200 characters to get to pith.)

But, in the hopes of using social media to grow this little blog o'mine, I have been making a bit more of an effort to join those who are a bit hipper than I. I know I'm super late on that revelation, but what else is new?

To be honest, Twitter is still an afterthought for me. I often forget to use it to mention new blog posts. (Sorry if you are one of my five Twitter followers. And thank you for being one of those five followers...) I often go weeks without checking my account. So, as you can see, this using social media for my blog isn't going quite as well as planned. Ah, well, baby steps.

But you know what? Even in my limited interaction with it, I have come to accept that Twitter is such a cool place. I'm not sure why I don't make it a normal practice to visit there. When I do stop by, I generally spend quite a while checking things out. I read some of the coolest articles because of the people, groups and bloggers I follow. It turns out that most of the Tweets aren't about where a person is or what he or she is doing. (Though I know there are plenty of Tweeters who do post only such nonsense.)

Today's perusal of the Twitterdom got me thinking about how social media has changed the way we read. I know I read tons of information that I wouldn't otherwise come across because of Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. The information superhighway has an inconceivably fast pace and it is really easy to miss some of the information exits if I've got my GPS set for one destination. Like if I use the internet only as God intended it--say, to find a chili recipe (post on that to come)-- I might have missed this interesting gem.

And yes, I do know that there is information of substance on this here interweb. I was just using that as an example. (But seriously, how scary would an interview with Anna Wintour be?)

Twitter, in its admittedly brilliant use of short bursts of information, like well written leads in a news story, can catch my attention and send me to an article, blog or website I would have otherwise missed. I find recipes to try and articles on vacation destinations. World events are clarified for me. The lives of the rich and famous exposed, etc. You get it.

As I said, I know I'm late to get on this Social Media bandwagon, but I know that many, many of my former students who are cool, hip, and in-the-know have been here for years. They have been digesting news and information this way for most of their adult lives, and while they might not be "readers" in the traditional sense, I wonder if they are reading more than I give them credit for.

Obviously the Internet has changed the way a great many people read. That's nothing new, nor is it shocking. I do wonder, though, if today's Twitter users are better read than they would otherwise be. Are they more diverse consumers than the previous generation? I find that even in the past five years my reading has changed considerably. I spend a great deal of time reading blogs instead of books. I read news as it happens. I read shared articles that I wouldn't otherwise have found. I watch Tweets come in to follow events that excite me.

I'm also picky. If my interest isn't piqued within the first paragraph or so, I know there is someone out there who can say it better. With books, I once felt that if started, it needed to be finished. I'd trudge through a hundred pages that didn't grab me in the hopes that something--dear God, anything--would happen to make the investment of time and brainpower worthwhile. But not anymore. (Generally speaking...) Now I'm a little more discerning. If the piece doesn't seem worthy/interesting/intelligent/informative/whatever, I move on.

Is this a mark of this new readership? Are they discerning and savvy? Are they exposed to more diverse information than we were? Are they then smarter? Is the new me smarter than the one of five years ago? Or, is the Twitter generation developing a form of literary ADD? Can they (we?) not stick to something for any length of time? Does everything have to be short and flashy? Is substance overlooked?

These are real questions. I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but I really am torn between the two ends of the spectrum. In many ways I am so very grateful that I have tools like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. (And yes, I know there are others, but seriously, who has time for more than three?!) Most days I feel smarter for having read the pieces I've read. I feel like I've taken in information that I otherwise wouldn't have. But there are those other days when I wonder if I really can't read more than six words of a story before deciding to move on. If maybe the overabundance of information is too much.

What do you guys think? Has reading and information gathering changed for better or worse? What are your impressions of Social Media like Twitter? Do you want to follow me @crqtncktls? Are today's readers doomed as sufferers of literary ADD, or are they better off than younger generations were?

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