Have you ever started reading on a tablet or other hand-held device, but soon lost focus or interest? Not because the article or book was unappealing or uninteresting, but because you couldn’t resist that siren call of Candy Crush or Diamond Mine.
Or have you ever started reading something, again on your hand-held device, but when you finished you couldn’t really give more than a high-level summary of what the article or book chapter was about? All the details simply skittered away?
Well, according to an article I read, this is becoming more common place than we realized. Evidently our brains have become so accustomed to being interrupted by moving video ads, twitching game icons, and streaming text headlines that we are unable to focus for more than a few precious moments on static text. And, unfortunately, even when we do get our brains to focus, we are losing the ability to comprehend the full flavor of the concepts and meanings behind the words that we read.
Now, I know I haven’t yet lost my ability to comprehend the nuances of a good story or a well-written article (no matter how long). However, I have encountered the alluring call of those gaming apps when I try to read a book or magazine on a hand-held device. And, I will admit that sometimes I have even given in to those beckonings. Not because the book is boring or the article not interesting, but simply because the games are too accessible when I’m using a hand-held device. When I read the same articles or books in physical form rather than digital, I’m rarely tempted to trade them for one of the hand-held devices, so I can play a rousing game of Angry Birds.
However, according to the article, our brains have become used to one- to five-minute snippets of input. Therefore, when some book or article extends beyond that, we tend to either discard or ignore the remaining information. So, what does that say for the future of books, book readers, and authors?
One thing that book readers can try is to implement tools such as Spritz, Spreeder, or Readsy. These tools not only move the text across the screen, but they are supposed to help readers read faster while retaining or improving their comprehension rates. They sort of create a game out of reading by giving readers the feel and motion of interaction that normal, static books don’t; yet, they also help readers retain their focus on a book long enough to complete it.
As authors, I believe the best we can do is to find ways to reconnect people with the joy of reading. Maybe we need to change the way in which we write. Perhaps, we need to put aside our traditional writing styles of long, convoluted paragraphs piled one upon another until we have ten pages that we call a chapter. Instead, maybe we need to write short paragraphs (one- to two-sentences long) and very short chapters (one- to two-pages long). In fact, we may need to resort to writing novellas (150 to 200 pages long) instead of 300-page novels. (Perhaps, breaking our books into two or three novellas that a reader can easily complete in short ten- or fifteen-minute increments of attention is key to gaining more readers.)
Of course, if we really want to connect with the readers of today, we might just skip the book part completely, and simply create movies or YouTube videos of our stories. However, I’m not that desperate for readers (yet). I still love the written word; so, I will continue to use them to express my thoughts and ideas with the hope and belief that there are still enough people out there who share my joy in reading (even if the words don’t sing and dance across their screens).