"Why we can't read anymore"


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<pork chop sandwiches!>


I don’t know, while I don’t have a smart phone I am easily distracted but I still read just as regularly as I always did, heck probably even more with the e-reader. What does happen is I will binge read a bunch of stuff and then pick up another book and go oh god not more text and opt for movies, games for a week or two over reading.

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I had assumed this was the brain fog.

That said, I find it useful to get away from the computer, and to have a basic-but-with-buttons e-reader to copy stories and articles to and read them away from the computer.

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With fMRIs, you can see the brain’s pleasure centres light up with activity when new emails arrive.
There is a famous study of rats, wired up with electrodes on their brains. When the rats press a lever, a little charge gets released in part of their brain that stimulates dopamine release. A pleasure lever.   Given a choice between food and dopamine, they’ll take the dopamine, often up to the point of exhaustion and starvation. They’ll take the dopamine over sex. Some studies see the rats pressing the dopamine lever 700 times in an hour.

This is because they are rats imprisoned in a psychologically hostile environment and systematically tortured, not because dopamine is irresistible or better than sex. They are trapped and have no better options than to retreat into drugs.

1) No more Twitter, Facebook, or article reading during the work day (hard) 2) No reading of random news articles (hard) 3) No smartphones or computers in the bedroom (easy) 4) No TV after dinner (it turns out, easy) 5) Instead, go straight to bed and start reading a book — usually on an eink ereader (it turns out, easy)

This suggests that your work day activities are psychologically damaging, and your home is not. Rat Race .vs. Rat Park, because you’re in the social class where your home is a beneficial environment but your workplace is not. Resisting psychological escape from work is hard, but resisting distractions at home is (relatively) easy.


I read dozens of books in the last six months, many of them bought from Goodwill via Amazon. A lot of them can be viewed in Google Books, which has a search function. In some books, the search only reveals the sentence, but the rest of the page is obscured. If I’m researching something, I can search multiple books for the same technical words, and I real quickly figure out which texts are worth buying in book form.


Can’t read? I find I don’t have time for all these silly videos. I’m always watching in double speed, skipping 30%, opening the transcript…


While digital distractions can be a big problem I still don’t buy the premise that people aren’t reading books these days. Despite the decline of the brick-and-mortar bookstore, book sales overall are the highest they’ve ever been—especially when you factor in ebooks.

Young people today are also more likely to read long novels than they were a generation ago. When I was in grade school only the nerdiest of the nerds would have plowed through the 1,000 or so pages of story in The Lord of the Rings. Nowadays it’s not at all uncommon to meet kids who have read the 1,150 pages of the Hunger Games trilogy or even all 4,200+ pages of the Harry Potter series.

Heck, there are whole swaths of the Midwest where seemingly every bored homemaker had the attention span to plow through the 1,600 pages of lit-porn in the Fifty Shades of Grey books.


Oh man my kid devours large books I would have decided were too big when I was 13. I kinda wish he wouldn’t stick with baseball history and biographies but man he has gone through some tomes that I would have found boring at that age.


I’d be curious to know if there is any analysis on whether people are reading more, or reading differently. Amazon’s got to have great data on this - they should be able to say how many books get started vs how many get finished, what the average reading speed is, whether the reading level has gone down with all the post-apocachicklit people are reading…

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At least “WE” haven’t lost the ability to make sweeping all-or-nothing generalizations about people. If people cannot honestly accept that most problems only affect some people, then they have worse problems to come to terms with.

Try saying it with me, just to hear how it sounds: SOME PEOPLE.



I’m reading less off-line these days, but that’s due to a combo of factors other than the zeitgeist: eyesight deteriorating with age, lack of money to buy any kind of book, and long-term depression. Though, come to think of it, maybe two of those are related to the zeitgeist, just the economic side of it rather than the tech side.

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Is it bad that I feel the writer needs to find more engrossing books? I have trouble putting books down- even though it’s 2 hours past bedtime or someone is talking to me- because I’m totally sucked into them.


I read A LOT - just not books, generally. I really like my media in small nuggets I guess. I prefer short story anthologies or short chapter non-fiction when I do read books.

“brain fog” is socially constructed, though. You’re still not grappling with the underlying reality.

That’s not a book, that’s a vacuum cleaner…

Socially constructed, or the invention of a greedy millionaire in search of bubaru?

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i’m in the “people are actually reading MORE, not less” camp, but i will admit that it took me several minutes to realize why the header image was used.

It always feels weird when an article or headline implies I also am having the problem the author is having because everyone is having this problem and it is not actually a problem I am having - or at least do not feel I am having. I don’t doubt the author has these experiences, and I have no idea if they are common - for all I know I’m the odd one out. But it’s still weird.

It’s like an article headline being “Why can’t we get this skunk to go away” and the article being like “I haven’t been able to get this skunk to stop coming onto our porch and eating all my dog’s dogfood, just as you haven’t been able to remove the skunk from your porch” like n…no, actually. Could you leave me out of this I do not think this is quite as universal as you are playing it off to be.