In the New York Times, Stacy Schiff (“Ulysses” Without Guilt“) uses Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read as the starting point for yet another discussion of information overload. I was too busy to read it, but that won’t stop me from passing on two choice paragraphs:
Say what you will about Professor Bayard, he forces us to confront a paradox of our age. By one estimate, 27 novels are published every day in America. A new blog is created every second. We would appear to be in the midst of a full-blown epidemic of graphomania. Surely we have never read, or written, so many words a day. Yet increasingly we deal in atomized bits of information, the hors d’oeuvres of education. We read not in continuous narratives but by linkage, the movable type of the 21st century. Our appetites are gargantuan, our attention spans anorectic. Small wonder trivia is enjoying a renaissance. We are very good on questions like why men fall asleep after sex and why penguins’ feet don’t freeze.
Recently Cathleen Black, president of Hearst Magazines, urged a group of publishing executives to think of their audience as consumers rather than readers. She’s onto something: arguably the very definition of reading has changed. So Google asserts in defending its right to scan copyrighted materials. The process of digitizing books transforms them, the company contends, into something else; our engagement with a text is different when we call it up online. We are no longer reading. We’re searching – a function that conveniently did not exist when the concept of copyright was established.
I was going to link this to some old blog posts — on Google and compact classics — but who has time? I’m rushing on to the next nugget of info.