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Ebooks are changing the way we read, and the way novelists write
Interesting article in The Guardian on how digital is effecting reading – and writing – habits…
But what is the ebook doing to the way we read? And how, in turn, are the changes in the way millions of us read going to affect the way novelists write? This is not just a question for academics; you only have to look at people on a beach this summer to see how influential fiction remains, and how, if its narratives were to change radically, our self-conception might also change.
In Words Onscreen, published this year, the American linguist Naomi Baron surveyed the change in reading patterns that digital publishing has wrought. Where the impact can be measured, it consists primarily of a propensity to summarise. We read webpages in an “F” pattern: the top line, scroll down a bit, have another read, scroll down. Academics have reacted to the increased volume of digitally published papers by skim-reading them. As for books, both anecdotal and survey evidence suggests that English literature students are skim-reading set works by default.
The attention span has shortened not just because ebooks consist of a continuous, searchable digital text, but because they are being read on devices we use for other things.