Monday 23 April 2018

Is the Smorgasbord Effect viral? Will computers come with health warnings?

My recent post ‘reading the signs’ highlighted the alluring smorgasbord of reading that the net now provides.

Smorgasbord allows us to have a new adventure with an old friend: food. Unfettered from the set menu, we can sample and taste and mix: just as we like. So too the net allows us to have a new adventure with another old friend: reading. As my earlier post noted: online magazines like iPad-only Project are helping to reframe the way we read. Or rather .. how we can read.

What interests me as a communicator is: what is this doing to our reading: this flitting from one tasty thing to another? And is this in turn affecting our thinking?

This question was a theme in a recent article by Geordie Williamson, the chief literary critic at The Australian, in The Australian Literary Review of 2 March, provocatively titled kindling for postmodern pagans. (sorry about this link: I got the hard copy)

Williamson probes the impact of increased reading of digital content on traditional publishing as well as our thinking.

On ‘thinking’ he refers often to Nicholas Carr’s essay Is Google making us stupid? Worryingly, I too identified with Carr’s lament: “I’m not thinking the way I used to think. …Immersing myself in a book or lengthy article used to be easy… Now my concentration starts to drift after two or three pages.”

While Williamson admires the endless possibilities of eBooks, he shares Carr’s concern that this open-endedness – this smorgasbord of choice – is helping to undermine the concentration he requires for proper, in-depth reading. He says: “I have experienced the same falling off in long-haul, deep drill reading capacities that Carr describes.”

So how will it play out? Will the reduced concentration span reputedly caused by the smorgasbord effect of online reading pervade?

Is it like some virus: a concentration-span eating virus? Some concentration-span eating virus that will mean the end of paper books and reading as we know it?

Should computers come with health warnings?

Knowing Australian health regulators’ penchant for labels, perhaps Williamson and commenting bloggers like me should keep this concern to ourselves.

Ooh look!  A new Tweet …



  • Jamie Garantziotis

    Nice post Parky!

    With the never-ending flow of bite-sized information available and the acceleration of the news and information cycle, I find that it’s often harder to sit down with a book and focus on in-depth reading. Yes, my mind automatically jumps from one post to the next- following the trail behind a post or story- and following it immediately.

    Don’t get me wrong- I love new technologies and new paths for sharing, receiving and consuming media and content, but I like to set aside time to make sure I still read, focus, and immerse myself in a book or newspaper and think about the words, issues and content….without the electronic links.

    Jamie G