Saturday, September 21, 2013

Technology Has Ruined Readers’ Attention Span

Technology Has Ruined Readers’ Attention Span

This is an interesting article that poses an important question to authors, especially those who tend to write stories that contain philosophical, theological or metaphysical themes and ideas and/or those whose stories have a greater focus on the interiority of their character(s) and/or the relationship dynamic between people - by default, the type of stories that are usually more dependent on the intricacies of language and frequently require more complex sentence structure.

It's been suggested that a writer always needs to write to his or her audience, but that a writer also must write what's in them to write. So, if the above types of stories are what an author is called strongly to write, how does he or she present these ideas, which inherently require more focused attention, a slower, more careful reading and deeper thought (more "work") on the part of the reader, to a growing audience of readers who are more familiar with and expect what technology presents as the norm: rapid absorption of concise bits of information, immediate gratification and a more exterior, visual transmission of ideas rather than one which is more interior and language-oriented?

Definitely a fascinating question for me as I don't feel I've figured that out yet. Are there many writers who are challenged by this, pre-modern technology readers who find more recently-released books to be lacking in certain respects because of it and what modern authors are known for succeeding extremely well at combining the two, seemingly at odds, facets of writing?

Thanks to The Passive Voice for the share.


  1. Yes, readers don't have much of an attention span. I was born without an attention span myself.

    For me the answer is not 'dumbing down' our fiction, but to write what you want using shorter, to-the-point scenes, shorter paragraphs, shorter sentences--- even using shorter words most of the time.

    That will not only keep the attention of the reader, but make the fiction stronger.

    1. Hi, Nissa. Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment. My attention span can be iffy too, although, oddly, not usually with reading fiction. With writing it, on the other hand... :-)

      The shorter, declarative sentences and concise paragraphs definitely seem to be the most common and most popular way to go these days, and I've enjoyed plenty of books with this recommended, almost Hemingway-esque, writing style - sci-fi and fantasy, dystopian, political or crime suspense, etc. I'm up in the air on whether I think it always makes all fiction stronger though. That is, does the same style work for all kinds of fiction?

      In my post comment on the article, I was curious about the specific types of fiction I mentioned. That is, do you find that it's difficult to convey deeper philosophical or theological ideas with extremely short sentences and simpler words? I remember reading theology books in school, like 'Radical Orthodoxy,' where one idea-filled sentence could be a hefty-sized paragraph, and trying to narrow connected, systematic theology type ideas like that down into a brief sentence, even as something only alluded to in fiction, can be a daunting challenge. Also, with writers who tend to focus more on the interior thought and emotion of characters and/or write with more stress on the interaction of people, rather than on outward action, do you think shorter sentences can sound less realistic? Generally, though not always, people tend to think and converse in longer sentences, sometimes to the point of being "wandery," with tangential ideas getting thrown in left and right. Does this make short, declarative thoughts and conversations sound unnatural, then? And then there's just the question of how to present ideas that require more from the reader as far as "careful" reading, such as symbolism, allegory, the use of words or sentences that can have multiple meanings, etc. Are these more difficult to present in modern times or even a no-no altogether, when many expect the style of writing in novels to resemble movies or TV, with a more visual, immediate feel? Do you have recommendations of authors who have found a way to do this well, with creative new methods of combining the older techniques for those types of stories with the modern preferences for the brief, immediate and very visual?

      Thanks so much again for leaving a comment. I always enjoy your insightful blog posts. :-)

      Best to you, Krisi