Books were once my refuge. To be in bed with a Highsmith novel was a salve. To read was to disappear, become enrobed in something beyond my own jittery ego. To read was to shutter myself and, in so doing, discover a larger experience. I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me — by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.
In a very real way, to lose old styles of reading is to lose a part of ourselves.
For most of modern life, printed matter was, as the media critic Neil Postman put it, “the model, the metaphor, and the measure of all discourse.” The resonance of printed books — their lineal structure, the demands they make on our attention — touches every corner of the world we’ve inherited. But online life makes me into a different kind of reader — a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention — and thus my experience — fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.
Author Nicholas Carr (The Shallows) writes that, “digital technologies are training us to be more conscious of and more antagonistic toward delays of all sorts.” We become, “more intolerant of moments of time that pass without the arrival of new stimuli.” So, I throw down the old book, craving mental Tabasco sauce. And yet not every emotion can be reduced to an emoji, and not every thought can be conveyed via tweet. […]
For a long time, I convinced myself that a childhood spent immersed in old-fashioned books would insulate me somehow from our new media climate — that I could keep on reading and writing in the old way because my mind was formed in pre-internet days. But the mind is plastic — and I have changed. I’m not the reader I was.
(Michael Harris, “I Have Forgotten How to Read,” The Globe and Mail, February 2, 2018).