Over the past ten years as I have shifted most of my reading from print to online, the Internet has changed how I read.
- books: about 30 a year, fiction and non-fiction
- news: mostly The Economist, sometimes the New York Times, some news from cable television and the Internet
- online share of reading: 20%
- books: about six a year, mainly fiction. I still read non-fiction books, but rarely all the way through.
- news: online
- online share of reading: 70%
News: I know way more about particular stories because the Internet allows you to go deeper – on the story itself, on the background, on opinion and thought about it and so on. But it also means I have less general knowledge of what is going on because I have lost my news-reading habit – something a daily or weekly subscription makes easy.
Fiction books: no noticeable change.
Non-fiction books: now mainly approached as printed websites. That means I read chapters here and there out of order. I use the index to find the good parts. I rarely read them straight through from cover to cover any more.
I now have little patience when non-fiction authors:
- Give chapters cutesy names – they give me little idea of what a chapter is about or the general flow of the book.
- Do not lay out their main points in the first chapter or at least the first 50 pages.
- Act like I have all afternoon to hear what they have to say. Particularly if they write like word-happy professors or novelists. Get to the point, man!
That impatience is partly taught by reading newspapers but it mainly comes from the Internet. I know because I have read newspapers all my life, but this impatience is new, new since most of my reading has shifted online
But the Internet has drawbacks of its own:
- Eyestrain – on the Internet it is hard for me to read more than 1000 to 1500 words at one go. I start to get uncomfortable. I think it comes from reading on a lighted screen – because if I print it out and read it offline I have no trouble at all.
- Distractions – email, news alerts, links, ads, etc, make it hard to keep your mind on one page. Few people online read more than a page or two before jumping to something else. It is worse than reading a book with the television on.
- It is hard to underline, make notes in the margins, etc.
- It is hard to bookmark your spot and pick up where you left off a day, a week or a year later.
- The Internet is a mile wide and an inch deep – on some subjects the Internet is very good, better than anything in print, but on other subjects there is little beyond the five or so paragraphs that keep coming up in searches.
So it is still way easier to get lost in a book – and you still need books to understand most things beyond a general level.