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OPLIN 4cast #382: Serious reading

Posted in 4cast

reading glassesWe are inundated every day by words on the web. We are constantly reading emails, tweets, news headlines, and, of course, the OPLIN 4cast every Wednesday morning (we hope). But for the most part, what we read nowadays is pretty short. Some people are concerned that all these short chunks of text are affecting the way we read, how we judge the importance of an item, and even the availability of detailed information. As a result, there have been some efforts to effectively use the web for long, in-depth writing that is more like the professional magazine journalism of the past. But not everyone has embraced this movement.

  • Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say (Washington Post/Michael S. Rosenwald)  “The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading, and it has been documented in academic studies. Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade when dealing with other mediums as well.”
  • A founder of Twitter goes long (New York Times/Matt Richtel)  “He’s [Evan Williams] carrying out ideas he toyed with in his first big commercial venture, which was called, simply, Blogger. He sold that to Google a decade ago, begetting his first millions. Now, he is joining the mini-movement to celebrate long-form expression at sites and apps like Longform, Longreads and the Verge. The oddity is that Mr. Williams helped found Twitter, which is to long form what snacks are to dinner: sometimes a prelude, often an appetite killer.”
  • When ‘long-form’ is bad form (New York Times/Jonathan Mahler)  “What’s behind this revival? Nostalgia, partly, for what only recently had seemed to be a dying art. And technology: High-resolution screens make it much more pleasant to read a long piece online than it was even a few years ago. Also the simple and honorable intention to preserve a particular kind of story, one that’s much different from even a long newspaper feature, with scenes and characters and a narrative arc. […] The problem is that long-form stories are too often celebrated simply because they exist. And are long.”
  • Against beautiful journalism (Reuters/Felix Salmon)  “[…] people intuitively understand that the way that their story looks implies a certain level of quality and importance. That can be a good thing: it encourages contributors to up their game. But equally, it can simply result in people giving up, on the grounds that they don’t particularly want such a grand-feeling venue for their relatively small idea. It’s time for websites to put a lot more effort into de-emphasizing less important stories, reserving the grand presentation formats only for the pieces which deserve it.”

Opposite fact:
Rather than use some long-form web venue for his 4,000-word essay on immigration, Teju Cole published the entire thing in a series of tweets.