Reading Our Screens

” Reading our Screens”, linocut collage; 2015

With the Internet, social media platforms, or, overall digital as our current mode of both gathering information (acquiring knowledge) and communicating the same, it is no wonder we are all at odds with each other with regard to the concepts of reality and truth. We no longer rely upon a linear history, see things in relation to that which came before, but, like our screen-world reality, tap in to any sourceless floating bit of information that has been manufactured for us by the consumerism of the Internet (the marketing of self and the self being marketed cannot be overlooked)  which has replaced lengthy book-reading scholarship and study.  Our use of digital sources for information-gathering leads us further into the so-called rabbit-hole of partisan-baiting freelancers whose marketing of opinion gives to us our current politics. Classic literary scholarship (the reliability of source long since established and vetted by centuries of cultural and historical relevance) has been supplanted by the consumer-driven computer screen and we are living the result.

The very information we now process is no longer the result of hours of focused reading in quiet library studies, but is an easily accessible montage of quickly-passing parts; bits of jotted thought or transmitted comment made virtually resource-less; free-floating pieces arrived at by an associative search removing one from our former context of a linear history.  The pieces taken out of the (existing) timeline are cut and pasted into the present-day context of the immediate Search Engine without consideration for the source, order, or sequence in which this is being done.   

This slicing and splicing together becomes the current context; the computer screen’s surface posing the notion of always being present, [no past pages turned] and thus, the democratization of information meets up with the mirroring universal literacy driving it.  It is a perfect pairing of form and content as well as being the embodiment of “form is content”. The medium is (as has been prophesied ad infinitum) the message.  The way in which we now “acquire knowledge” is, in fact, a direct reflection of the “knowledge we acquire.” 

This nonlinear (poststructuralist) perspective yields nicely to our literary philosophies but leaves most of us outside the theoretical conversation and left to ourselves to solve the problem of vetted authorship and information’s validity. Without considering the method, source, or, overall system of how things are made available to us, we have no way to discern anything about what we (now) have relentless access to.

As to the issue of form assuring content, no matter how at home we may feel at our computer screens, there is still an overbearing weight to assume in being able to digest all that is available via this medium.  A book from cover to cover is digestible; an endless Google Search is not.  In paradox, we assume an easier time of acquiring knowledge, but are far more pressed to admit the impossibility of ever digesting anything fully.  From out of the much larger context, we extract what we want, what we need.  We need not read anything in its entirety because the new form denies us the ability.  And, maybe more alarmingly, our current socio-political conversation seems not to require it.  Our current nonlinear collecting of linked information (source unknown, validity dubious) will give us as much of the meaning of a work as would our cursory skimming over of it.

The old trick of reading the back cover synopsis of a book in order to write a book report has become for us now – the PRIMARY way in which we operate within our knowledge-seeking world.  There is far too much at our fingertips for us to do anything other.  (I cannot read this book by Monday).  It is no longer just one book we have to read and comprehend, but all of them.  They are all there, linked together beyond any manageable comprehending boundary.  We are overwhelmed before we even begin. 

It is no surprise, given our propensity for convenience, that we’ve opted to indulge in the easy alternative:  that of skipping and searching and looking for enough links and tangents to get to the theme we must arrive at in order to “write our paper.”  We won’t pass without it.  The plot we’ve tackled easily on our first Google search.  The meaning, though, our truest obstacle to be met – will forever remain out of reach given the path we’ve chosen – that of the present paradigm of computer screen as perfectly fine library-aisle substitute.   

2021