So, might just be me, but I hadn’t run across the “tl;dr” thing until I was reading a Mark Pesce’s “What Ever Happened to the Book?” post from a few weeks ago. As usual, it’s a totally great piece about “connective reading,” one that explores the motivations of following links and the pressures that linked environments put on the act of reading. As a former English teacher, I love that conversation, and I see myself all over it:
The lure of the link has a two-fold effect on our behavior. With its centrifugal force, it is constantly pulling us away from wherever we are. It also presents us with an opportunity cost. When we load that 10,000-word essay from the New York Times Magazine into our browser window, we’re making a conscious decision to dedicate time and effort to digesting that article. That’s a big commitment. If we’re lucky – if there are no emergencies or calls on the mobile or other interruptions – we’ll finish it. Otherwise, it might stay open in a browser tab for days, silently pleading for completion or closure. Every time we come across something substantial, something lengthy and dense, we run an internal calculation: Do I have time for this? Does my need and interest outweigh all of the other demands upon my attention? Can I focus?
Not sure why, but I love thinking about this stuff. It’s fascinating to step back from time to time and go all meta on my own reading and writing. For instance, the process I’ve got down for using Google Reader and Twitter to lead me to lots (too much?) good stuff to read, then to save it to Delicious, or to read it later with Instapaper, or to snip it into Evernote, or to throw it up on Posterous, or even mix it into a blog post here (or there.) Looks a little different from what I did ten or five or even two years ago. The public nature of it all is a big enough shift for most, but my brain just operates totally differently now when reading and writing. Both are a participatory sports these days.
And I know I keep coming around to how my kids aren’t getting any of this in schools, and my frustrations as a parent that most of the good souls in the schools where my kids are don’t create links on a regular basis. Or that they’re not teaching “connective reading” in any real sense. That there not helping my kids with the challenges of this changed reading space, which, continuing from the snip above, Pesce makes pretty clear:
In most circumstances, we will decline the challenge. Whatever it is, it is not salient enough, not alluring enough. It is not so much that we fear commitment as we feel the pressing weight of our other commitments. We have other places to spend our limited attention. This calculation and decision has recently been codified into an acronym: “tl;dr”, for “too long; didn’t read”. It may be weighty and important and meaningful, but hey, I’ve got to get caught up on my Twitter feed and my blogs.
So, it begs the question, I think, what do we do? Just like I alluded to a changed reality in the Facebook post yesterday, there is a changed reality here, too. The act of reading and writing is different. The habits are different. And it’s still changing and evolving, just like reading and writing always have, but with what feels like, to me at least, more speed. No one is teaching our kids.
Assuming you didn’t go “tl;dr” to this post, what ways are you thinking about or actually implementing change around reading and writing instruction in your classrooms? How are you helping your kids read and write differently? What’s different about the way you read and write today compared to ten years ago, and what are the implications? Reflect away.
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