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.

19 thoughts on “Mad Chatter: Let’s Talk About TL;DR”

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

    1. Hi Polly! I absolutely love hearing from you. Unfortunately, more information doesn’t automatically equate to quality information. As for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, I’ve read it more times than any other novel, and yet, I struggled to get through it myself the last time around. And I couldn’t figure it out. I kept thinking, I know this book. I loooove this book. Still, I struggled to get through it. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I find myself gravitating towards short stories more and more.

  3. 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!

  4. 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 elements – those sound good to me. How do we buck the trend and preserve our brains? Well, this is a start! 😉
    p.s. – I’m reading books, still. I read a few mags – e.g. the New Yorker. I get the hard copy Times once in a while, and there’s nothing like it. But I’m on the computer for WAY more time than I’m reading paper products. 😉

    1. Hi Lynn. Thank you for this really thoughtful response. I’ve never heard of this three photo rule, but if that’s true, it’s really unfortunate. We don’t just love your photos, we particularly love how you create themes and craft a story from them. As for solutions, I’m not sure we’re there yet. I do think engaging in these conversations and trying to explore ideas like these are a good start. We’re not suggesting casting aside social media altogether or at all, but there has to be a way to establish some semblance of balance.
      P.S. I rarely read print materials anymore. Most of my consumption is digital (convenience). But I’ll tell you, I sure do miss turning those pages from time to time.

    2. Hey, Lynn. It’s Lynn! I wanted to jump in here too and respond to your comment about Instagram. I wholeheartedly agree that it really is such a surprising medium — I’ve seen so many amazing photographers struggle to find a following there. And yet, accounts with multiple pictures of the same hand-over-coffee-cup-with-cool-patterned-floor shots seem to do really well. It baffles me. But we’ve also found some really fun and supportive people on there, which is the only reason we keep going back.

      Glossy fashion mags are my guilty pleasure! Everything else is electronic, just due to the sheer practicality for those of us who live in shoe boxes. But as mentioned, I’ve had very little to feel guilty about lately *insert crying emoji here*

  5. 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 to entertain themselves while we look at our smart phones. It just perpetuates the problem. I could go on and on, but I wholeheartedly agree with you. One of the new publications I started writing for told me “more pictures, less words,” and my heart broke a little bit.

    1. Hi Lauren! Though this little aside of ours has been in the works for awhile, I must admit Lynn and I reacted to your recent post this way: This could totally be a Mad Chatter post! 🙂 And we absolutely see thematic parallels. Certainly, a lack of patience and focus impact our daily interactions overall. I guess the best way to combat it is to not allow ourselves to be part of the problem. We have to hold ourselves accountable and let common decency be the driving force in how we approach those around us. In other words, we have to lead by example, as painful as that can sometimes be.

  6. 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.

    1. Hi Christi. To say “I feel ya” would be an understatement. And don’t get me wrong, sometimes those read times can be useful. I’m not generally an all or nothing type. I see value in it, I also see drawbacks. Without a doubt, I read fewer books a year than I used to. But when I do actually sit down and make the time to read, I instantly remember how much I enjoy the act of immersing myself in the pages of a great book.

  7. 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!

    1. Hi Charlotte! Indeed, that sounds like a solid way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Had you added coffee and pastry to that sentence, you would have my ideal. 😛 In a broad sense, I don’t think value should be derived from the length of any written work. A piece is well written or not. It’s interesting or not. It speaks to you or it does not. Undoubtedly, there are some subjects that cannot be covered in 1,000 words, well written or not, but there are plenty of cases in which 1,000 words is perfectly adequate. Whether something is an appropriate length for the reader should be up to the reader. It’s completely subjective…and should be. As for Pachinko, I have heard a lot of good things about this book and will have to add it to my ever expanding list. Many thanks for dropping us a line.

  8. 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 support them through my late fees!). Reading is what I do for fun and relaxation, vs. watching TV (with the exception of Masterpiece, for which I am rabid, and my friends having potlucks to watch the Walking Dead). Admittedly I read less poetry and literary fiction than I used to, and more genre stuff, though that is well-written and often thought-provoking. The bigger the book, the happier I am, as it’s going to last longer!

    No doubt I’m kinda strange though. xoxo

    1. Hi Cynthia! Well, let me say I like your kind of strange then. I believe the 1,600 definition fits the criteria for Longreads, whereas your SEO is focused on hedging against TL;DR. I consume my fair amount of media, but I do find a special kind of joy in reading. I love that you brought up the venerable and far too often overlooked institution that is the library. We are quite fortunate to have access to the enormous resources of the NYPL. And btw, I had quite a chuckle at your comment about funding your local branch with late charges. Kindred spirits!

  9. 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 is the only reason I was able to start a blog in the first place. Imagine that… giving ourselves time to think leads to more creativity and community involvement.

    1. Hi Heather! Thanks for the thoughtful comment. The About Me section of your blog does, indeed, parallel the spirit of what I was trying to relate. I think it’s a struggle many journalists, bloggers, and writers have to contend with these days.

      Being able to read for pleasure is certainly a luxury anymore. And taking time to disconnect from the machine and reconnect with our priorities is essential to personal and professional growth. I’m happy for you that you’ve had the opportunity to re-calibrate (that seems the most apt way of describing it) and that you’ve experienced some of the dividends already. Maybe that’s all we need…from time to time…to force-close the app, do a hard reset, and start all over again.

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