Tag Archives: reading

TL;DR and the Destruction of Attention Spans Everywhere

tldr “TL;DR,” meaning “Too long; didn’t read,” is a common acronym found around the Internet these days, usually in response to a longer story or essay. Sometimes, authors will even write a short, one- or two-sentence summary of their point as a preface to their article and have “TL;DR” out beside it for those readers who don’t want to read further.

But this is more than an acronym. This is a PROBLEM.

Two Reasons This Is a HUGE Problem

As an English major and former English teacher, I find this “too long, didn’t read” trend distressing, for two big reasons:

  • All of us–including those of us who study literature and written publications–are becoming entirely too impatient when we read. Either that, or we feel easily daunted when we see long blocks of text. We have become more dependent on short written bursts of news and entertainment, and most of us do not take the time to read on a deeper level daily.
  • Because of the instant gratification of TV and the Internet, our kids are growing up with this same “TL;DR” mentality in schools. This doesn’t help them learn to deeply read literature–they find shortcuts online or read Cliffs’ Notes, rather than sitting down and really studying the actual work.

Even I’m finding it hard to concentrate on a long essay or a long work of literature these days, and I used to be one of those folks who consumed the written word like it was candy to my brain. One could attribute it to stress or illness, but I think there’s something else wrong–my ability to concentrate has dwindled with the lessening need for extended concentration. And I’m likely not the only one.

The (Sad) End Result?

I fear that the day is quickly coming where people will not know how to make themselves read for long periods of time, and will forget how to lose themselves in well-written literature for hours. I fear that we as a society will forget how to pay attention to something that isn’t flashing and/or brightly colored.

The main reason I fear this? Because it will, quite simply, put me and other writers out of a job. As a writer, I want generations of people to read my novels, to immerse themselves in the world I am painstakingly building with my words. But if in the future no one can pay attention for that long, will my words ever be read and enjoyed at all? I’m sure I’m not the only writer out there who worries about this.

The Solution: Building Up “Reading Stamina”

I believe that we all must work on our “reading stamina”–the ability to read for long periods of time without getting distracted or bored. The reason I call this ability “stamina” is that it can be trained and increased, just like physical endurance. We can endure longer reading sessions; we just have to want to do so, and schedule time to “work out” in the mental gym.

  1. Search up a subject you really enjoy, and read 2 articles about it. Compare and contrast how each author approaches the subject. For instance, I might read a couple of articles on astronomy, music, the geek life, etc., and see how each author’s opinions match up with each other, and where they differ.
  2. Closely read 1 short story, poem, or 1 chapter of a novel per day. Don’t just scan the work, but read it almost as if you were reading it aloud, going word-by-word. Really delve into what the author is saying; study their word choice as if through a microscope. How does the piece of writing make you feel? What is the author’s point?
  3. After you finish reading anything, mentally summarize what you read. Does what you just read change your opinions or worldview in any way?
  4. Share what you’re reading with others on social networks. Offer questions on the points you didn’t understand in what you read; offer opinions on the points you understood and reacted to. Start a discussion!

These are all exercises that will help you beef up your understanding of what you’re reading, which will make it easier to read for longer periods of time–you won’t feel so overwhelmed. Just like you have to start exercising with short bursts of activity and longer rests, so you must train your brain with short bursts of reading every day, rather than jumping into a huge novel right away.

I’m also suggesting that you make reading a more social activity; it’s long been seen as something that isolates us, much as computers isolate us today, but in fact becoming well-read can help us make new friends as well as enrich all our conversations.


(Ironic that I’m putting a summary on this article, isn’t it? LOL) If we want to continue being a literate society, we need to stretch our reading muscles. We need to be okay with reading longer works, or reading for longer periods of time, because being willing to read deeply can help us do everything from enjoying literature to avoiding financial pitfalls (reading the fine print). If we don’t use that skill, we lose it; if we lose the ability to read longer pieces of writing, how long before we lose the ability to read deeply at all?

Rediscovering The Library

In this age of frugal living/careful spending, I’m surprised when I hear some of my friends talk about “buying” the new book everyone’s talking about. I’m surprised–not because I’m surprised at people reading, but because I buy almost no books anymore. Instead, I’m a regular customer at the library. Want to know why I made that change? Read on to find out!

My Background in Reading: Extensive

For most of my life, I’ve been a voracious reader, tackling numerous books in a week sometimes (if boredom was striking hard). It didn’t hurt that I grew up being taken to the library a few times a week, too, always marveling at their large book collections. It was a wonderful place to explore, and I enjoyed checking out the mountains of books I inevitably wanted to read every week.

High School: A Gradual Moving Away from Reading

Somewhere in high school, however, I lost the will to read for pleasure. I credit it to my AP and honors literature classes and general college prep, which demanded so much reading outside of school hours that after I was done with homework, the last thing I wanted to see was a printed word. I, who had loved books from childhood, virtually quit reading for pleasure until the summer before my sophomore year in college.

I instead found myself playing more video games and being on the computer more often, needing more pictorial and interactive ways to relax instead of having to stay focused on more words. It was so unlike me, in retrospect, but at the time, I didn’t think anything of it.

College: The Change Back (Mostly for the Better)

The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college changed things drastically, however. Due to an ex-boyfriend’s casual dismissal of me, I ended up very sad and lonely most of that summer, languishing, feeling like I had no purpose.

But soon enough, I got tired of sitting at home crying, and finally I got up the courage to venture out and buy a few books to read at a nearby bookstore. Suddenly, it all came back–why I had loved reading. It had helped me to escape a world I had had enough of! So I began collecting more and more books, reading them and putting them aside, sometimes to reread them, sometimes not, for the next 8 years.

Uh-Oh…Now the Mountain of Books is in My House…

But you can guess what happened. These days, I’m virtually swimming in a sea of purchased books. My bedroom is stuffed with them, there are boxes upon boxes in the hallways, and still there are books in the floor. It’s a picture of my brain and my life. I love information, I love reading, and I still find myself looking at the bookstore and wanting to buy a lot of the books I see. But, with the new problem of storage, I just didn’t want to have to deal with picking them up off the floor and trying to find places to put newly acquired books for the rest of my life.

Suddenly, a Solution–The Library!

Then, a brainstorm. As I sat at the library using their wireless Internet one afternoon a couple of years ago, I looked around and it struck me–why am I not using this library card I have in my purse? Why don’t I just check out the books I want to read, and then bring them back in 2 or 3 weeks? DUH! Knowing how fast I read, I knew I’d be done with at least one book by week’s end, maybe more.

So I rose from my chair and pecked around in the fiction section a bit until I found a couple of books that interested me. I have been enjoying the library’s privileges since, reading 3-4 books every 6 weeks or so (depending on how hectic my schedule is). Once I’m finished with them, I can return them and let someone else enjoy them, and they aren’t lying around cluttering up my house any further. Plus, I’m not spending tons of money on books I might not even read again. I have rediscovered the library–rediscovered one reason why it is so wonderful.

Don’t Let Your Library Go to Waste!

But libraries are vanishing fast–even our local library may not be around much longer, and that saddens me. As a money-saver, as a time investment, and as a place for free Internet that isn’t a loud coffee shop, it’s perfect for me and many other local folks. Yet libraries all over the country (and possibly, all over the world) are still having to deal with budgets shrinking, less visitors, almost no income, and lack of new books to put up. I think it’s awful.

Many people have commented on this issue, with some folks saying libraries as we know them won’t be around much longer anyway. Others are saying libraries are struggling and failing to meet a new technological need rather than an informational one. And some say that libraries must update technologically to offer the same kinds of community help that they used to.

I believe that yes, libraries as mere storehouses of books are not the informational resource they once were–the Internet has taken that place. But the library is still a free/almost free source of Internet and printing facilities, as well as a safe place for families and communities to come together. (Not to mention that they are generally QUIET…yay!) I think the world definitely still needs libraries–their ageless serenity is a refuge from the outside world, a home away from home.

Whether libraries will ultimately come to house technology as well as books/in place of books, or whether they become cultural centers or something else entirely, I believe that communities still need them to serve, and will need them as long as there are social humans. Libraries were not only my refuge in childhood, but have become a newfound haven in my adulthood. And I think it can be that way for others, too. I just hope more people rediscover their libraries soon, so that this experience I’ve had doesn’t just become part of history!