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September 13, 2014


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When I was clearing through things at my home in India, I came across boxes of letters which my family had written to each other. It occurred to me that I will never get these anymore, tangible words that can be held in my hands and read and which carry the energy of time across generations with it. I don’t write as much on paper as I used to, nor do I read in the way I used to, I find I am easily distracted. But then I do read more than I ever did and communicate more than ever through the net. The way I used to read and write seems to have morphed into another way of doing what I did.
I remember there was an book about this subject of your question. It was called The Shallows. I never completed reading it…

When I thought about (mostly)retiring, one of the things I could taste in anticipation was having time to read more, and I do. But I carry a deep reading culture to the project. In the past five years, I've noticed the erosion of that culture in everyday life. Many commuters once read; now, especially among the young, they scroll through text messages.

I thought people were reading more, just not conventional news media. Images have become hugely important, but until recently they were so hard to include with media that mostly they weren't. There's room for a lot more images to decorate and inform text, but J. would agree, I think, that informative, articulate images -- as opposed to random ones -- are really hard to make, so most people will stick to text.

Hi Beth

Language is expanding all the time, new forms come into existence ( eg, rap )to give us a new vocabulary, a new way of articulating and we assimilate, consciously or otherwise, some of this.
The web, I think, has increased our reading time but obviously the question of ' quality ' needs to be addressed somehow.

“ A language is not just words. It's a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is. It's all embodied in a language.”

Noam Chomsky

Carry on the great blog!


Beth, I certainly write less but that's mainly because: a) most of those people I used to correspond with regularly and extensively (in paper letters) have died and b) I rarely write a diary now because I don't feel the emotional need to any longer. The internet and digital media have certainly provided useful new tools for communicating and for information gathering but I'm not as involved with its social aspects as many people are. I still prefer books on real paper and real newspapers and to watch the news on tv. The excitment of blogging has waned for me but I think will revive and I love being part of a small bloggers' salon with people who have become online and, sometimes, real life friends. Email has indeed made the writing and receiving of 'real'letters obsolete and I regret that very much, especially when I re-read the marvellous correspondence I have from significant individuals in my life. Email will never replace that, not sure why, but the interaction between hand/mind/eye changes completely when paper and pen or typewriter are replaced by screen and keyboard. I suppose some kind of experiment could be devised to figure out what the differences are and why they affect us.

I love the drawing in this post.

Writing is still my primary medium, and I suspect always will be. I could try to make the case that because (my) poetry tends to be brief, it's more manageable than prose poses in this era of social media and so on -- but I'm not actually sure that's true; ideally one wants the reader of poetry to pause and engage deeply, which is not what today's world promotes.

I wonder whether we're returning to an earlier paradigm, in which those who read are a smaller and more elite group, but because of the very rarity of reading, those who do it take it more seriously. But I don't think that as other literacies (media literacy, digital literacy) rise, "old-fashioned" print literacy is going to go away.

I expect what you want to know is whether immersion and "deep reading" is vanishing. The comments so far amount to "yes," don't they? (Priya's is funny! Rachel's makes me think of earlier centuries when courtiers wrote and circulated poetry privately.) But perhaps readers of good books have always been few. We've been lulled to think otherwise because some books have sold so widely in the past century, but how many of them were doors to Melvillean "deep diving"?

I think part of the question is whether (good? serious?) writing *matters* as much as it once did. Long ago, I read The New Yorker from cover to cover, for instance, because it was one of only a few sources for ideas that made me really think. Now there are sources everywhere, and so many words I can't keep track of them, or possibly read everything I'd like to, let alone expect people to read what I write myself. There's a feeling that much of what is written gets lost in the shuffle and din, but also that there is more good writing out there, by more people, because the internet has given permission and possibility for everyone to be a writer. A blessing and a curse, both, perhaps, but I do think it's better to have fewer gate-keepers and a broader range of work and ideas available. Whether the writing matters is another question - but I do feel less isolated and more involved in the conversation that my writing and other people's writing generates than for most of my life up to, say ten years ago.

These days I read almost everything off my Kindle reader. It's all words. I enjoy getting periodicals without the fluff of distracting ads. I spend more time with that kind of reading than I do with writing on my blog or Twitter or Facebook. I recently finished several notebooks worth of a memoir that I will never publish. When I was done with that, I was done with the whole enterprise of finding myself through writing and am just living day by day in the real world.

Cartoon dating back to the days when letters were dictated, taken down in shorthand, then submitted to the dictater for approval.

Secretary: I didn't know how to spell psychology so I drew it.


OK for you - you've got a foot in both camps - the graphic and the written. Those less gifted must make shift.

As to writing, one hopes that what is written gets read. But there are no guarantees. Even masterpieces get overlooked. Thus, a writer must enjoy the act of writing otherwise he or she is simply wasting time. Macramé beckons

I think there is much in what Robbie says. But when it comes to spoken communication, and my experience with my adult children's children, they seem to manage with a series of grunts and other sounds. I think there has always been a need to communicate, but the efficiency of communication appears to be declining, as well as the range of people able to decipher what passes as communication. Texting messages are just so much gobbledegook, for example.

Oh I'm so tempted to emit some despairing old fogeyism on the topic of Kids These Days!

But I am not actually convinced that things are worse. Although they are surely different.

I, for one, read much less long-form anything than I ever did. I used to get through big books all the time. Now, hardly ever. (And the last one I read, The Goldfinch, was such a monumental disappointment that it may be awhile before I try again.) Some of that may just be age and experience valuing a different use of my time.

My attention span has shifted, and also what I'm interested in has shifted. I'm less an absorber of worlds (and words) that others have created and much more invested in shaping my own, real, present, lived life. To the extent that new technologies and attitudes are making more people communicators and makers, I'm all for it.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.