Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, December 26, 2008

fast-twitch and slow-twitch

Okay, so in an earlier post I argued that we live in an Age of Reading, an age in which more people than ever before are reading various kinds of signs (many of them textual) all the time. I also acknowledged that these forms of reading are quite various — but they also do have certain traits in common, primarily the physical act of scanning, of casting one’s eyes across a field which contains identifiable signs, identifiable units of meaning, identifiable objects of interpretation. A student reading a novel and a quarterback reading a defense and a radiologist reading an x-ray are all performing similar actions, in this one sense at least; but we also know — and commenters on that post immediately noted — that in other respects those are very different actions that call for very different skills.

People who value acts like the reading of novels worry whether other forms of reading — especially quicker ones, like the quarterback scanning the defense, or a video-game player scanning the dangers confronting his or her character — are displacing the kinds of reading that require longer, slower kinds of attention. And this is a legitimate worry. But I wonder whether the physiological commonalities I have pointed to could, if we are thoughtful and imaginative, provide a way to get people who are already skilled at fast-twitch reading to develop their skills at slow-twitch reading. It might be that these activities are not as alien to each other, as opposed to each other, as we commonly think. That’s something I’m trying to work out in my own mind, anyway.