A Sad State of 280 Characters

I had a harsh moment of self-awareness recently when I realized our world’s sad state of addiction to Twitter-length “stories” of 280 characters had firmly entrenched its hooks in me.

Since I was a little girl, I have loved to read. As an adult, with grown kids and more time on my hands, I read anything: novels, nonfiction, magazines and newspapers. Even the backs of cereal boxes and nutrition labels. But for some years now, I’ve gotten the majority of my news intake from my phone over breakfast, scanning stories that at most come in at, say, eight or ten paragraphs.

Then I decided I needed to start reading The Boston Sunday Globe again. I missed the indepth journalism, the commentary, and the crossword puzzle. But I can’t get it delivered to my home in New Hampshire–we’re too remote. So I trekked to the grocery store last Sunday to pick up a print edition of the paper.

A Horrifying Look in the Mirror

Then something horrifying happened. I settled in at the kitchen table with my breakfast, opened the paper to start reading, and my brain went, “This article is far too long–I don’t have time to read this.”

I nearly gasped into my Heritage flakes. In fact, I did have time. I just didn’t have the mental stamina to read a full-length news article. What had I become?

I realized I had to reset my brain. I told myself reading the newspaper was like reading a magazine. I read magazine articles all the time and have plenty of patience for the 5- to 15-minute commitment they require. So having reset my expectations and adjusted my attitude, I was able to fully digest, and enjoy, the newspaper and the news within.

Is It Any Wonder?

No wonder print news is struggling, being subsumed by digital, online media. If I had to re-train myself to read an in-depth story, it’s a safe bet that those who aren’t readers by nature or find magazines too wordy for their busy schedules aren’t flipping any newsprint pages these days, preferring instead the brevity (and probably the immediacy) of news delivered in 280 characters or similarly short form.

I can’t change them. But I can, and did, change me. And I am thoroughly enjoying the results. Even if it takes me all week to work my way through the Sunday paper…

front page boston sunday globe

2 thoughts on “A Sad State of 280 Characters

  1. This is why I don’t bother with Twitter. have you read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows? It’s more detail and supporting research on exactly what you are writing about.

    1. I just checked it out. It is depressing and scary, but not surprising, that there is proof the Internet and social media are eroding our critical thinking skills. Thanks for the tip.

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