Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat



1. I have been using the internet since I was in grade school. It was rather primitive and slow back then, but was still captivating. The scope of information that I could access was staggering, even back in those early days before blogging, wikis, and Google News (I was excited by pages that had pictures, even though our computer took ages to load one). I guess I was in my early or mid teens (I make it sound like it was a long time ago!) when I first published my own material online. It's still out there somewhere. Then I moved on to Blogger, three and a half years ago. All of which is to say I've been using and contributing to, in a very small and insignificant way, this thing we call the internet. It's an endlessly useful thing, whether in terms of communication, information-gathering, or just sheer entertainment.

2. Gore Vidal has suggested that the internet is a means for a sort of renewal of literacy, particularly among the younger generations. There is, I think, a great deal of truth in this idea. The internet remains, in many ways, a text-based or at least text-intensive place. Granted, one can now cruise it all day and read very little text at all and instead use various other sorts of media. But a great deal of internet use surely must still involve a good deal of text. It is the experience, at any rate, of the denziens of blog-land (though some apparently see a decline in blogdom approaching), and a good deal other people, myself included. I read a lot of text online, from blogs to news to whole books in the public domain. I still read lots of tradtional text; I even read old fashioned newspapers sometimes. But most of the news I read is in digital newsprint.

So yes, people are reading a lot of text on the internet. But what is the quality of our reading online? I suspect that it leaves a lot to be desired, and that the ease of obtaining information, of viewing different texts so quickly, has some significant problems, in addition to the virtues it possesses. For one thing, the sheer amont of information I can access tends to encourage me to skip about from one source to another. In fact, at this very moment, I have three browser windows open, and have already flipped back to them while writing this. It's so easy to do; if I grow bored, however briefly, of one thing I am doing or reading, I can switch over to something. Needless to say, this does not encourage good analysis or comprehension of the text being read. I am not fixed to a specific text; I can go from one text to another entirely different and unrelated one in a single moment. A hyperlink in the text can carry me off to something unrelated and divert my previous focus entirely. However, I should note, this same thing can also be good, by relating one text to another relevant one; hyperlinks can serve as expanded footnotes.

3. In the same vein the nature of online reading tends to encourage a skimming of the material. I find this particularly true in reading blogs; I am tempted to read through a given text very quickly and then examine the comments- I am reluctant to tackle a large block of text in many cases. What material I often read I read very quickly, without good apprehension of what is being said. As my attention is diverted by the aforementioned plethora of choices in text I am less likely to actually digest and assimilate what I am reading, except in a rather superficial manner.

4. Finally, switching from reading to writing, while the internet can encourage writing, it can also encourage bad writing. This seems particularly true with e-mail and such; the rapidity of the medium seems to encourage it. But this can also be true in the realm of online publishing, whether through blogs or 'conventional' web sites. One can write something and immediately publish it, bringing it to the reading public. Not only is it fast, but one can write about anything and make it public. Again, this is one of the good features of the internet, but it can also be abused badly.

All of this is to suggest closer attention to our usage of the internet- and in saying it, I am very much preaching to myself! The internet is an excellent tool, but like any other tool it can be abused (and I have barely mentioned matters of content- that would be a whole other post). The internet is by nature fast-paced, but we can, through disciplined and thoughtful use of it, employ it for good.


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