Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stories in a Distracted Age

"The internet has evolved a new species of magpie reader, gathering bright little buttons of shiny knowledge, before hopping on to the next shiny thing."  So writes Ben McIntyre in a recent article in The Times. In the essay entitled "The Internet is Killing Storytelling," McIntyre argues that stories are central to any evolved civilization, and that sustained narrative--central to which is plot--is lost in a culture where we are all pulled from second to second by Outlook, Tweets and texts.

As a reader, I like to think I am outside of this, but recently I read the forward Maggie Jackson's  Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark AgeIn it, Bill McKibben, who authored the forward, asks the reader when the last time was that he or she sat in a car without listening to the radio.  I tried hard to remember when I drove home without changing stations perpetually and stealing glances at my Blackberry.  As I write this blog, I have NPR on and am fielding questions about tomorrow night's fourth grade play and whether we should get New Moon tickets on-line for Friday night.  The dog is barking, and I haven't started dinner yet.  The sound of a new text popping up on that Blackberry makes me lunge for it--why are reactions to that noise a textbook case of conditioned response?  If Jackson's dark age is indeed approaching, I'll be a pioneer. 

But McIntyre's stance isn't all dark.  He writes that the human desire to hear a story will ultmately make us stop and listen.  While NPR is arguably part of old media, one of it's strengths is the story.  Try turning off the engine in the middle of This American Life.  The driveway moment, as NPR calls it, is what I believe will help it transform itself into a new media format.  Our house is wired, but we still love our books.  They give us an oasis of silence in a very noisy world. 


  1. You're very philosophical, both in this and the previous blog, and I feel mine is superficial in comparison. But you caught me about the attention span--why do I have the TV on, even muted, when I'm working? And as for the previous blog, how scary is retirement? I think one minute I'm adjusting well and the next minute that I scared as hell. Go figure! But you make me think, and that's good.

  2. Glad it's coming across as cogent--sometimes I wonder. The multitasking is the nature of the age we live in. Fear is universal!