Girl reading with bridge in the background via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Mad Chatter: Let’s Talk About TL;DR

I read an op-ed recently that struck a nerve. It was written by Canadian author, Michael Harris, and the title was I Have Forgotten How to Read. Coming in at about 1,629 words and creeping just a hair over the three page mark, it was a lengthy read by today’s standards. It came to me care of a dear friend’s Facebook post. I approach content from that platform with equal parts skepticism and curiosity, but I decided to give it a go nonetheless. I’m glad I did.

Do you have 5 minutes to spare?

Guy slamming book shut with a frustrated look on his face via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The gist of the editorial is that the pervasive media platforms we’ve all become accustomed to using every second of the day have dulled our wits, truncated our attention spans, and predisposed us to migrate towards information that has been reduced to the bare essentials. This leaves little room for nuance, a range of perspectives, or salient contextual elements.

In fact, this has become so common that many articles provide a pre-engagement notification of sorts, or Estimated Reading Times in Marketing parlance, for exactly how much of a commitment will be expected from the reader. Much of this cropped up through a novel concept pioneered by Longreads with the intent of defining exactly what they meant by–you got it–a long read. Unfortunately, this idea has now been applied at the other end of the spectrum. I’m sure you’ve seen the “5-Minute Read” banners that are now ubiquitous in much of the online world.

Gif of Captain Picard saying "This is too long I decline to read it" then tossing a book across the room via Mad Hatters NYC
Via Giphy

Going even further, Instagram has become its own blogging platform because no one wanted to click through to a blog, much less read content longer than a paragraph. Tutorials for bloggers and social media influencers continue to espouse the virtues of hooking easily distracted readers. In the age of TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) the mantra goes: use less words, more pictures.

After reaching the article’s conclusion, a vaguely alarming set of notions crept into my brain and set up shop: The same thing is happening to me and I’m pretty sure the same thing is happening to everyone else. Point in fact, Lynn recently lamented about the enormous stack of magazines gathering dust under her bedside table and how long it’s taking her to get through a book.

Now what?

Meme of cat reading To Kill A Mockingbird with text that reads "WTF...This book has absolutely no information on killing birds"
Via Tastefully Offensive

So, flying in the face of this concept, we’re starting a random category of posts we’re going to call Mad Chatter. Anyone who has read our blog knows the drill. We generally offer activities paired with a meal. But occasionally, we thought we’d share some of the things we’re thinking about or discussing when we’re not out there “doing stuff” in the city or running off to a destination far away. We might share thoughts on something we read, our latest TV obsession, a really great recipe, or all of the above. Nothing is off-limits.

But here’s the thing, we really want to hear your thoughts too. Even if it’s something completely random, drop us a comment or send us an email. Let’s start a conversation.

Is the same thing happening to you? Have your reading habits changed? Have you read a good article or book lately?

– J.

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JAM
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Love this! Bring on the ponderings! Wouldn’t it be nice to bring back true exploration of ideas and possibilities rather than the rant and rave we so often find in media?

Polly
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Polly

Although the internet has opened up accessibility to”more” information, any subject that I want to read in-depth at some point requires tracking down an actual book with decent citations, more often than not one that was published long before the internet. On the other hand, I mean to read Frankenstein for the 200th anniversary of its publication, and it’s been sitting bookmarked at my bedside for a month, a third of the way through, waiting for a power outage I guess.

Trudy
Guest

This is me most of the time actually. I can’t be “on” all the time and doing things. If anyone follows me on social media, they’ll see that I’m not all activities and food but that I have distinct opinions on current events and life in general. So this is right up my alley. Great post!

lynn
Guest

Great idea. I’ve been aware of the way digital platforms are shortening attention spans for a while, but I don’t want to turn away completely. I joined Instagram, and I find it so unsatisfying. It amazes me that important photographers and writers like Stephen Shore and Teju Cole are posting on it. But that’s the way. And speaking of more pics, fewer words, I read that any more than three images and you’re finished – no one will see more than three. But as you know, I’m not following that trend! 😉 Nuance, a range of perspectives, and salient contextual… Read more »

Lauren Johnson
Guest

You guys hit the nail on the head. This post sort of reminds me of the one I wrote about rudeness…it seems like thought, conscientiousness, and the ability to focus your attention on something (or someone else) for more than five minutes all go hand in hand with manners and empathy. Social media and our smart phones, as ‘great’ as they are, really seem to contribute to the demise of human intellect, compassion, and our collective attention span, but again, I go back to some of the parenting I see: we are responsible for giving our two year olds iPads… Read more »

Christi
Guest

I love this, count me in!
I first noticed the ‘timed’ articles about a year ago and while they puzzled me (how do they know how fast I read?), I confess I appreciated them as well. (Do I have 5 minutes to read this article? Yes, I do!)
Yet anything requiring a longer commitment often sits for weeks on on my bookshelf. I used to read a book a week, easily, but not anymore.

Charlotte Steggz
Guest

There is nothing I enjoy more than sitting down on a Sunday afternoon to read blog posts and articles. I don’t like ones that are too long (maybe 1000 words is my limit). As for a good book, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is what I’m currently reading and it’s very good!

Cynthia | Adventuring Woman
Guest

This is wonderful, I’m in! Funny, the last thing I read about how long a blog post should be said: in order to give any real information, a post needs to be around 1600 words. On the other hand, my SEO helper tells me I’m good if I have a minimum of 300 words. Sort of a giant gap there! I am a reader, a big reader. I am spending more time on digital platforms and consequently a bit less on print, but (so far) I always bounce back. I check out tons of books from my local library (and… Read more »

Heather
Guest

HA! This is amazing and it’s in my About Me section of my blog. Part of the reason I started a blog is that I was constantly being told, “no one is going to read that, it’s too long… put it into bullets or include at tl;dr” Anyway, now that I’m voluntarily unemployed, I’ve read three books… for FUN… in a matter of 2 weeks. OK maybe not something to brag about, but it’s more than I’ve read in a while. I’ve also found that reading, taking breaks, doing more yoga, and just giving myself time not to be rushed… Read more »