Ode to skimming: On reading and our attention spans

Over the past two decades, the demise of the printed book has become a familiar story: the digital medium is killing print and destroying our capacity to read long books. The end of print, we hear, will bring about eye strain, anxiety, aggression, fidgetiness, unkindness, stupidity and bad posture. This is not to overstate the case – in What We Talk About When We Talk About Books, Leah Price cites studies which correlate print-reading with voting, volunteering, donating to charity and lasting romantic relationships. She cites books and articles whose titles include “The End of Books”, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Price sets out to demolish received wisdom about the differences between the page and the screen. She succeeds. That familiar story about print and digital reading melds all print cultures of the past and present into a single,…