Why I Can’t Read Novels Anymore

novels fiction information overload

Over the past year or so I have become an information junkie. But the way  I consume my media is in short bursts, bite-sized, real-time content on places like Google Reader, Twitter and Stocktwits. I save almost everything in Delicious.

At first I viewed this as building a real asset or a second brain: I knew everything going on in my bubble of tech. Names of all the major players in startup and VC land. I have ways of finding and accessing information many don’t even know about. I felt a step ahead of the game.

I have also optimized my ability to consume niche information rapidly: 340 RSS subscriptions, blogs, newsletters, alerts and aggregators like Techmeme.


My ability to read long form (novels, etc) has disintegrated.

I have trained myself like clockwork to scan for keywords and main points; reading detailed monologues such as those found in novels has become too onerous and I loose focus. In my new world, rather than read a book, I’m more likely to read the book’s Wikipedia page and then individually research the conclusions/topics. Much of  book’s prose seems simply filler.

When I do read lengthy pieces, I find myself skipping ahead in chapters to reach conclusions. For someone who write often and used to love literature, This is not a good thing. I think I have conditioned my mind in way that is perhaps unhealthy and to what end? Am I really better informed? Maybe it’s possible that our future is 200 character maximums and short snappy prose like we see popular in Japan.

Or maybe I need to take a step back from my information addiction and go deep rather than wide. I’ve been looking into some meditation classes and thinking of ways to clear out my mind to re-focus on understanding verses skimming. I doubt I am alone in this and it’s possible this addition to information will be something we must address as a society in the future.

Related Posts: Exponential Times, Top Down Selection: Sifting for Information and Should I Become a Sharing Snob

Update: Sean Murphy has a good follow-up post to our exchange in the comments on this post. Also, SEOmoz has a great post confirming that people don’t read long passages of text and The Guardian has an interesting article also.

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