In Neil Postman’s groundbreaking critique Amusing Ourselves to Death, he lamented that American society was transitioning to an entertainment-based model of information-gathering and spreading. Gone are the days of attending public political debates and actually listening to the content therein. Gone are the days of absorbing literature. Back then books could actually ignite social movements (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and revolutions (Thomas Paine’s Common Sense).
Postman shed light on what people in America didn’t realize: we need to be entertained in order to learn. We need to be entertained in order to be informed. We need our short attention spans satiated. Instead of attending hours-long political debates, we’re watching mere snippets on television. We’re listening to catchy sound bites with no respect for context. Bear in mind that a lot of what Postman said back in 1985 still rings true, IF you substitute the word “television” for “internet”.
Anyway, Postman’s focus was on the change of the means of information, and television’s newfound role. He didn’t necessarily focus on the means of writing itself, though. It pains me to say that nowadays writing has to be packaged differently if it wants to see success. It has to be redacted. Stephen King actually had to cut 500,000 words from The Stand before it could see publication. Of course, he later put out the expanded edition and that was due to fan demand. A book like War and Peace would probably not see the bookstore shelves today because of its excessive length. Length brings richness in characters, but it requires you to (politely) ask your readers to be patient, which is a risky move.
As Postman pointed out, the new means of information today have dramatically shortened our attention spans. We not only have shorter spans for the news and our own elections, but also for reading material. USA Today, one of the nation’s top publications, owes its success to simplistic text and image-reliant articles.
Man, I’m going all over the map here. I’m supposed to be talking about books, for Christ sakes. GET ON WITH IT!!!!!
So books need to be packaged differently, right? It needs to be more action-oriented and fast-paced or readers will seek other stories to read. My novel, Heather’s Mannequin, for example has only 46,000 words. I chalk this up to my reading of nonfiction books that are always to-the-point. What I like about nonfiction is it doesn’t waste your time with nonsense. You can learn something new with the turning of each page.
Now, get this: I’ll be the first to admit that I have a terrible attention span. Social media owns my soul. This may be why I can’t stand literature that beats around the bush. I could never finish reading Atlas Shrugged. I tried, once, to brave through Anna Karenina but failed. If today’s writers were being honest with you, they’d tell you the same thing.
I truly am a product of my time. My attention span is a product of its time and its environment. My attention span contributed to the fast-paced nature of my novel. Some may say the fast-paced nature takes away from the story. I respectfully disagree. I believe that the character going from one place to the next, while keeping background info…in the background, leaves the reader wanting more. My book is perfect for those with garbage attention spans.
You’re welcome. Buy my fucking book.