Wednesday, March 16, 2011


One difference between a fly and a man
They used to say, was attention span.
He may or may not, but at least he can
Pay attention for more than a second.
The world has changed; it seems, today,
We live our lives a different way—
A major shift? Too soon to say,
But that’s how some have reckoned.

We used to sit and read a book,
Though days or weeks (or months) it took
But now, we wouldn’t waste a look
On something of that length;
We’ll look, perhaps, for something short,
Condensed into a brief report,
Or gut the classics for our sport
If we can find the strength

Our lives, now lived in snippets brief
Each written on a single leaf,
And when some day we come to grief
An epitaph bizarre:
Beneath this stone, a person’s head;
So many tales he could have read
But chose a different path, instead—

From NPR today, an interesting essay on the increasingly fractured informational landscape we live in. Books have gone, or are going, the way of the slow-cooked meal; who has time for a roast, or a novel? Give me a burger and a blog, to go! By the time information has made its way to a book, it is obsolete! (Interestingly, the notion that a portion of that "obsolete" knowledge is what was reported in shorter form along the way, and thus did not have to stand the test of time, is not explored. There are advantages to both the shorter, quicker and the longer, slower forms.)

For my thinking, the perfect compromise is a book, say some 300 pages in length, but which contains briefer bits that one could finish in just a few minutes, perfect for bedside or *cough* water closet. Overarching themes may well develop, and lessons may be learned, but such a book would take advantage of the new, shorter attention span. Indeed, the condensation of information into such brief forms might well require specific mnemonic and other cognitive devices--say, meter and rhyme, for instance, as a means of facilitating the acquisition of information. And it would be easy to obtain, just the click of a button away, like this:
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.
It should not be free, though--studies have shown that information too easily obtained is valued more cheaply, and may be too quickly discarded. No, this perfect book should be priced realistically, reflecting its value, and yet inexpensive enough to be the perfect gift for a loved one, or to ask that loved one to buy for you.


Anna O'Connell said...

The format is indeed suitable for both brief perusal of a single item and longer reflection about the themes or concepts.
I was able to give my friend her (now very belated) Yule gift of a copy of your book in person yesterday, and was quite gratified to receive her thanks and the "Oh! I LOVE Digital Cuttlefish!" comment when she unwrapped it.

Cuttlefish said...

How wonderful!

I suspect it is quite a rarity to give this particular gift and get a reaction of recognition. Clearly you (and she, both) have great taste in friends!

Melissa said...

My mother has already promised your newest book for my upcoming b-day. She has wonderful taste in gifts.

On to the subject matter of this post. I sometimes promote the use of graphic novels in the classroom. At the college level, I've found this tactic gains quite a bit of positive student response. As a plus, I believe On the Origin of Species is available as a graphic novel.

E-books are also a hot topic in library circles (have been for a few years). This is especially true given the habit of some publishers to gut fair use and consumer rights when it comes to electronic books. If you're interested, one librarian discussing this issue is Agnostic, Maybe