I am a reader of short forms that can easily be encapsulated in small ephemeral, clickable, and scrollable windows.
As a reader, I am rushed, distracted and often lost; I flip compulsively through news feeds with my computer mouse, I juggle with the multiple tabs of my browser (to the harm of my monotask brain):
click, right click, new tab, read, scroll scroll, zoom, scroll, switch tab, click, scroll, save and read later, close tab, click, scroll switch tab, scroll close tab click scroll switch tab like click read back scroll scroll…
… like comment reply switch tab click scroll switch tab click scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll.
When I was young, I liked all kinds of books: detective, fantastic or science fiction novels; comic books, funny or serious; big heavy books, such as encyclopedias and dictionaries; and even the auto guide, to the despise of my parents.
I liked books no matter their length: the short ones, the medium ones and the endless ones.
Today, I am under the impression that I have no longer have time: the adult life comes with serious things like keeping up with the news, work, and university.
Down times are filled with the phone always in hand (for social media of course) and Netflix shows in the evening.
Any other form of entertainment, or culture, has become supererogatory: what does not fit in an Instagram square or in a post-able box on Facebook may simply go unnoticed, fall into the forgotten.
I am under the impression that as soon as one moves away from the mainstream information fair proposed by the GAFAMs, they are called “geek”—those weird people interested in weird things.
Authors are now “content creators,” readers are now (passive?) consumers of information.
Scribes are developers of software, intellectuals are visionary CEOs, innovation leaders, billionaires to be worshiped.
I find myself in an economy of attention in which each and every move—click, view, share—is treated as transaction, monetized according to the highest bidder.
What is shared well is broadcast clearly and the likes to say it come easily.
“Reading” on the web is no longer innocent; digital spaces, with their information overbidding catalyzed by personalization algorithms, seem incompatible with the soft serendipity of Proust’s never-ending afternoons.
The reading time spaces are interrupted by diverse solicitations (“accept cookies,” “subscribe to our newsletter,” “turn on notifications,” “you may also like…”), content is framed by abundant advertisement widgets and recommended content.
The margins of websites are often even fuller than the central column of content—as if the main article served merely as a pretext to these dense shelvings my eyes inevitably slip towards to.
I usually read the headlines, punchlines, texts with shocking titles, which appear to be radically left or right on the spectrum of binarity.
I often read that social media increases the polarization of debates, by promoting radically opposite points of view, often without any nuances.
I am tempted to express myself in dichotomies. On the web:
- We do not wander, we roam erratically.
- We no longer read, we click.
- We write no more, we like.
… but that would be caught in the very game I try to escape.
I write as I read—that is too quickly and often without thinking—perhaps a consequence to the grammar to which I have been accustomed, that of the instant, of Twitter or Instagram.
The formatting of thought by technique appears absolutely real to me, although I lack to words to correctly express it.
To presume of the neutrality of the tools of reading and writing constitutes in my opinion an important pitfall: an interface without friction leaves an impression of transparency, of seamlessness, but it can cause the user to become dependent.
The technical power seems to me more important, more commanding than ever: a handful of private companies own the means to diffuse information worldwide.
Culture (francophone, among others) is therefore captive of the tongue of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
In summary: I am a reader of devices, machines, apparatuses, I strive to read the programs and sub-texts that condition a given text.
Post-scriptum: this text has been published as threat of tweets (although it has been redacted in a text editor), hence its fragmentary form. It has been presented in the Training Readers seminar given by Karine Cellard at the department of French Language Literature at University of Montréal.