“I have always been a sucker for ballads, but you have to be careful these days, you can’t overload people.”
I was in a meeting last week and heard the term “infosnacking” for the first time. It certainly caught my attention. Ever curious, I went back to my desk and looked it up. Apparently this word has been around since about 2005 and as with most words in the English language its original definition has changed over time. I also discovered I am very adept at doing this 🙂
The word was originally coined to describe time spent on the computer at work to do things that weren’t work-related (Googling someone or even shop online when you should be working.) Now it includes getting online throughout the day to check your email, visit blogs (oops) or check the headlines. Hmmm.
In the context of the meeting I was attempting to stay awake through, the term seems to have expanded to include the average persons inability to pay attention to anything beyond a few paragraphs. Huh? It was Friday, who has a meeting on a Friday? Seriously! The meeting discussion was how to gain and keep that brief window of attention to get your message across. I won’t bore you with the details, but my writer brain immediately kicked in and got me thinking.
When was the last time you sat down and read a novel that was 500 pages or more? It is a significant time investment, isn’t it? One of my favorite books has 973 pages, but I don’t usually gravitate towards books this length. I don’t have time. Not only that, but have you ever skimmed over descriptive passages because you just want to get to the next action sequence? I am ashamed to say I am sometimes guilty of doing that.
Books used to have more flowery language and imagery. They took time to absorb. It was a slower pastime; not a sprint like so many things today. I have heard over and over again that the average reader doesn’t even read at a high school level. Keep the words simple so they can be readily understood. What happened to looking up an unfamiliar word? For heaven’s sake, eReaders do most of the work for you. Highlight the word and the definition will appear. Yet, we are still cautioned to stay away from big words. I find that sad. We need to keep the readers attention or they will “snack” somewhere else.
Books are much shorter in length, many with non-stop action. I don’t know about you, but as a writer I struggle to balance a fast paced story and still develop the relationship between my characters. Sometimes I just want to stroll along with the characters, not race them to the finish line.
I think there is so much information vying for our attention infosnacking is here to stay. But, I for one, hope there are still readers out there that prefer to take the more scenic route. Let’s savor the journey, shall we?
Kylie, this was great information. I think you exaggerated the typical reader reads at the high school level. Back in Journalism School, we were told 8th grade level, and recently I heard closer to the 5th grade. Between infosnacking and commercial-length attention spans, it feels like an uphill battle. But, I’ll keep writing.
I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, but you are probably right about the reading level. We will both fight the good fight and keep writing 🙂
Hmm, I wonder if the reading level is higher amongst those who spend a certain portion of their disposable income on books – ebooks as well as hard-copy. I really hope that we will see a trend toward expanded vocabulary usage now that we have e-readers with built-in dictionaries. I hope so!
I would venture to say that the reading level has to be higher amongst those that actually spend the time to sit down and read. The key is getting their attention long enough for them to invest that time. How many times have you used a word and knew right away the person you were talking to didn’t have a clue what you were saying? I find that particularly disturbing in a work environment. We just need to keep putting good books out there and hope they find an audience.
Kylie, as a woman of a certain age I grew up reading books with long descriptive passages, and all that flowery language, and as a twenty-first century writer I’m forever trying to find the right balance of action and character development for today’s readers. It is such a fine tight rope we walk. Thank you for writing on a topic we all struggle with!
Every day we are bombarded with information. The noise in our daily lives can be overwhelming, but I have faith you will find that right balance in your writing 🙂 You are not alone in your struggles, that’s for sure!