Speed Reading

STAR Tannery, Virginia – Are you reading this? Good for you! It’s a dying art – or so it seems.

It is with a certain amount of sadness that I’ve watched the demise of long-standing newspapers of record this past spring. One of the papers for which I wrote printed its last issue two months ago. Another scaled its size and staff down considerably.

I can’t complain because I contributed to their economic troubles. Subscriptions were one of the first luxuries to go, since there are adequate online sources for news, most of them provided, in streamlined version, by the very paper that used to be delivered to the large puddle in my front driveway.

Naturally, the economy has been a big contributor to this phenomenon, but technology has also had an effect.

Frankly, though, USA Today and its fast-food approach to the news began the slippery slope to the small-bite approach to news writing so suitable for the internet.

Up until recently, the general public’s inability to focus on any prose longer than a few sentences or to do anything but skim a lengthy article was just a passing observation. As a collector of old books, I’ve noticed how larger print and thicker paper make some current hard cover novels appear more substantial than they actually are.

If A Tale of Two Cities was printed by today’s bestseller publishers, you’d need a wagon to tote it onto the subway. Not to worry – the only people still reading the Dickens classic are college lit students for whom nice, cheap paperback versions are available, if not those lovely yellow and black Cliffs Notes for those who like the idea of classic literature, but not the actual body of writing.

This disdain for more than a cursory reading became an urgent issue recently when I wrote about a governmental budgetary observation on my obscure little domestic blog.

Let me point out that visitors to my blog consist of my family and friends who have dropped by randomly and liked my point of view. Most random visitors are bored to tears by my fascination with cooking, knitting, birds and, of course, dogs. Every now and then, though, I deign to express an opinion.

In this case, it wasn’t even an opinion; it was more of an observation of the long-standing budgetary practice of “using up” (i.e., wasting) money at the end of a fiscal period. Within the scope of the entire budget the amount is usually chicken feed. But in most cases this “chicken feed” would support an entire family or two for a year – and that was the point of my post.

To illustrate this I had taken a picture of a group of government employees who were doing (or not doing, actually) what these particular governmental workers are anecdotally known for doing (or not doing) all over the country. But the reason they were doing (or not doing) this was because of this wonky budgetary system.

I’m not trying to be cryptic. I just don’t want to again go through what posting that picture and writing that post put us through that week. Within a day of that post going up, I had a local representative of that state agency on my doorstep; a gentleman who, I might add, had not read my blog.

I explained my position and he seemed satisfied with that, but apparently the news spread like wildfire throughout the agency. Pretty soon I was getting anonymous comments on my blog from local employees accusing me of the very opposite of what my post was stating.

When I’d redirect them to read the actual post, they’d back down grudgingly as if to say, “No one told me I’d have to actually read anything…” (Except for one hanger-on responding to the pictures who refused to do any reading and, as it turned out, was totally unrelated to any of the parties mentioned in the post; a person who, judging by his/her comments, probably has a close personal relationship with Mr. Daniels.)

I relate this only to illustrate that even 500 words was too much conscious reading for most of the visitors to my blog that day – most of whom had a stake in what I wrote.

My husband did not want me to bring up this incident again now that my blog’s back to normal. I assured him that he didn’t have to worry: there are no pictures here and my Spot-On columns range around 700 to 750 words. I’m guessing most readers gave up at the mention of A Tale of Two Cities.

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.


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