“Deep Reading” isn’t Dead–Neither is Laziness

Over at Big Think, Nicholas Carr blogged about the supposed “death of deep reading.” As expected, Carr connected the growing prevalence and continual need for “simpler forms of writing, more broken up forms of writing” to–drum roll–our increased dependence on technology.

I’m troubled by the assumption that a “simple” style precludes deep reading. Do people really believe this? Do people read Hemingway’s succinct prose published almost a century ago–closer to the age of Victorianism than the age of the Internet–and think, now this is something I don’t have to read ‘deeply,’ because the sentences are shorter! Please.

There is no inherent connection between spareness and reading depth, and I’m weary of the false equivalency between the two. Also, writers were using “broken up forms of writing” (writing that uses headers, collage, modular narrative broken into spare fragments, etc.) centuries before the computer age. The false equivalency that conflates spareness and fragmentation with “shorter attention spans” or “contemporary society’s dependence on technology”–yawn–needs to stop, because it’s a red herring.

David Shields loves to push this idea, but it’s utter nonsense, historically inaccurate, and, most damning, a rationalization for laziness. There’s a big difference between genuine simplicity–say, Hemingway’s Iceberg-eque version that challenges readers–and myopic simplicity that assumes readers have shortened attention spans because they spend too much time on their iPhones.

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