April 10, 2014

Time and Space in Our Digitized World

"You have exceeded your character limit by 3 characters."

"Maximum word count is 150."

"Your character limit is 125 including spaces."

We live in an era of expanded reach and compressed thought. Our ideas and communication can go out to hundreds, millions. But, often, the allowable space to express them is reduced to a degree that, for example, letter writing and face-to-face communication does not impose. Does this have implications for the quality of our interactions? If so, how so?

Lately, I have noticed that my son has established what I call a toleration ceiling for the amount of time that can be spent talking about a given topic. His new modus operandi stands out against his innate sociability. It occurred to me that the push to compress our ideas for social media purposes is having an affect on the patience that is missing in face-to-face conversations nowadays. I shared this with my son and he, of course, chalked up my observation to me being, in his estimation, ol' school when it comes to technology. Shaking my head. When's the last time you saw that phrase written out completely? Laughing out loud!

Needless to say, I was excited to hear a story on 'Here & Now' about the affect that online reading has on our reading comprehension. The story covers the possible outcomes of skimming and scanning information online on the deep reading of challenging texts. The story is about the consumption of information. But it occurs to me that the socially mediated expectation of compressed thought is affecting face-to-face and other forms of non-digital communication in a similar way that skimming and scanning is affecting reading comprehension.

People are less patient with the expression of nuanced thought because we spend a great deal of time in digitized spaces that impose spacial limitations on idea development. In face-to-face conversation, the unspoken expectation is that we skim and scan our thoughts and share them in a condensed format. The tolerance ceiling for nuances is low.

I am glad that Maryanne Wolf wrote about online skimming and reading comprehension. The interview by Robin Young contributes to thinking in a more nuanced way about the broader issues of thought expression, comprehension, and expectations in a digitized world.


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