Reading Comprehension Is A Dying Art

Yesterday, I received the first legitimate comment on one of my blog posts. By legitimate I mean that the post wasn’t spam. I got the notification while I was uploading yesterday’s post and was initially excited to engage with a reader. Unfortunately, this comment apparently came from an idiot: David Sirmons at davidsirmons07@gmail.com.

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His comment was in response to my article on Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. In the article I criticized the perception that an attractive woman has to be a dainty one. To this day, I still think Gal Gadot could gain at least another ten pounds for her role as Wonder Woman, but this mindset gets criticized by those who think we want Wonder Woman to be too “brutish” and “unwomanly”. I used Jessica Biel as an example of a more muscular woman who lifts weights, while also remaining “womanly” and very attractive. I said Biel was brutish as a sarcastic statement that accompanied this picture. If David read the whole article he probably would have realized that, but he is likely one of the people who only skimmed it before posting a comment and making a fool of himself:

“Jessica Biel? Brutish?!? You have a slim view of what constitutes ‘brutish’ in a woman. Google is your friend for enlightenment. Biel is fantastically in shape, and is far closer to the bodytype needed in WW. Your entire article above speaks out how Gal needs to put on more weight. I fully agree. But if you think Biel is oversized……jesus. You don’t get out that damn much it seems. She’s great, and her body type is right in line with WW. Odd how you prefer the actually stocky and oversized Carano over Biel. Get your dipshit eyes checked.”

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So even though David says exactly what I was saying, that Biel’s body is closer to what WW should have, he doesn’t realize that is what I was saying. David is probably one of the dim-witted people who will retort to an argument by writing “TL:DR(too long, didn’t read)”. Sadly, this post that David commented on wasn’t even one of the longer ones. It is about 1000 words, but is also broken up with plenty of paragraphs and links. I guess that was still too much for poor David to get through, and he had to resort to posting an idiotic comment. Hopefully this blog post isn’t too long for him.

I was hesitant to call him out originally, since David is not the only person involved in this kind of stupidity online. This is not the first time that an argument has been completely misinterpreted online. There are plenty of longer articles on independent blogs and sites like medium, but many of those posts are broken up with images and short paragraphs. It is a shame but it seems like this is the world we live in now, where we need to accommodate for shorter attention spans instead of trying to fight them. Fifty years from now, maybe articles will all need to be under a certain length for anyone to bother reading them. If the attention cut off point is 1000 words now, maybe it will slim down to 500 words in another twenty years.

I am not saying I am immune to a shortened attention span, I am only saying that I try to be mindful of it and fight against it. I avoid staying on apps like instagram or sites like YouTube for too long. Over the past few months I have made an active commitment to watch tv and play video games less, substituting that time with reading physical books. I meditate, I exercise, I do a host of things in the hope of clearing my mind and staying more focused. Basically, I do all those things to be less like David. Thank you for commenting David, and for showing me what I could turn out to be if I am not careful.

Update: I received an email response from David after I called him out on his mistake. Below is his articulate retort:
“True, I didn’t read it all. I only read the area that I was presented with regarding the image. Still, you called her brutish, did you not? Yes, you did.

Fuck off.”
I can respect him for admitting he didn’t read the whole article, as I suspected. What I have no respect for his is child-like defense. Yes, I did call Biel brutish, sarcastically. Context is king and for this idiot to latch on to the “oh you did say it though” excuse… his mom probably tried to balance too many things in her hand at one point. Welcome to the new normal of the internet.

 

Novels to Novellas- Embracing A.D.D

While updating my LinkedIn profile I got an alert about a new topic in the “Writers and Authors Circle”. The post was a brief one, more like a status update, entitled “A Brave Novella World”. The author basically argued that due to shrinking attention spans novellas will become more popular than novels since they are shorter. A novella is typically between 20000-5000 words, while most novels are at least 60,000 words.

So it makes sense that people will be able to read novellas easier than they read books, but it is not this point that bothers me. What bothered me about this article was the mindset that writers have to accommodate for shrinking attention spans. As I wrote in a reply, it is like saying we have to mark homework easier so children get better grades. Children get better grades but they do not learn as much. They will graduate and keep moving up the academic ladder, but that is how we end up with university graduates with poor writing and communication skills. After serving as a teaching assistant at McMaster University, the poor level of writing skill from some students baffled me. Simple matters of grammar and punctuation eluded some of them, and as I read through the post on LinkedIn it was easy to see why. We live in a culture where many people are apparently not taught to try to improve on themselves. Instead of working to improve our attention spans, or to improve our writing skills, we are taught to blame the systems that judge us for our deficiencies.

This is what leads to grown men and women (not just teens) embracing this LinkedIn post. This is what leads to people supporting the post and sharing details or their own short attention spans. Letting us know it is important to make literary works shorter so that there is more time “to text friends and enjoy movies and TV”. What a dreadful world it would be if we had to sacrifice those amenities in order to read a “300 page book”. Never mind the fact that you can read a 300-page book in ten days if you read just 30 pages a day. Or you can even read just ten pages a day for a month if your attention span is truly suffering.

I am not trying to sound superior in anyway. I have also struggled with the issue of a shrinking attention span as well. Since I started using Instagram to promote the blog I have also found myself compulsively checking my phone for updates or to mindlessly scroll through pictures. I even did that once while writing this piece. However, I am not deliberately making this piece shorter so I can go back to things like texting and movies. As with any of my blog posts, I could write longer pieces since the topics are often so broad. However, I choose to keep the pieces somewhat concise. While I do not want to appease A.D.D I also do not want to write a dissertation for every blog post. A big part of the reason for that is because I want people to read the whole thing and I realize getting readers to consume a very long piece every week might be asking a bit much. Another reason is the fact that I am also trying to make time for other productive duties, like writing my second book, learning French, practicing the guitar, going to the gym etc.

I have acknowledged that my attention span is dwindling but I am not avoiding reading or seeking out shorter books so that I can appease this shrinking attention span. I am trying to fight against it. I am making a conscious effort to read every day, in order to ensure that I read one book every month. I am fighting against the system, not embracing it. It is the same principle we adopt for fighting unjust laws. Instead of going along with them and accepting it as part of the system, we do our best to raise awareness of alternatives and make those alternatives a reality. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that a shrinking attention span must be embraced. Realize that you have the time, and more importantly the will, to fight it.