Reading Our Screens

The surface of the computer screen is always in the present tense and the information searched and presented on the screen follows in contextual reading.  The computer screen has taken the musty aisles of the ages-old research library and has foreshortened them, having them recede (in space) rather than extend outward, or lengthwise, in a physical chronological unfolding. 

We no longer have to physically walk past shelves and shelves of books, but rather, sit at ease and face a small manageable computer screen.   There are no aisles of great depth, no panoramic view of thousands and thousands of books, just one page read out of every page available.

However at home we may feel at our computers 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.  Our current nonlinear collecting of linked information 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 of a book in order to write a book report has become for us now – the 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 boundary.  We are overwhelmed before we even start. 

So, our chosen alternative gives us the act 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 remain out of reach given the path we’ve chosen – the present paradigm of computer screen as perfectly fine library aisle substitute.