Jamie Rubin recently wrote about abridgement going too far when it comes to books in his post “Abridge, Too Far“.
I’ve been thinking about abridgments lately because of an ad that keeps popping up on Facebook. It’s for a service called Blinkist. The service claims it allows you to “fit reading into your life.” It does this by providing short (15 minute or so) key takeaways of popular nonfiction books. I took a look at some titles in the History category. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, a book I recently finished, is summarized in 19 minutes of audio. The actual unabridged audiobook is over 15 hours long. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, which I read last year is summarized in 19 minutes. Actual unabridged audiobook length: 41 hours 32 minutes. This, to me, is abridge too far.Jamie Rubin
This reminded me about a couple articles I’ve read lately about a different approach to using social media. In Ephrat Livni‘s post titled “The best way to use social media is to act like a 19th-century Parisian“, she wrote –
Arendt argued that a moral society depends on thinking individuals. In order to think we need solitude and mental freedom. “Arendt reminds us, if we lose our capacity for solitude, our ability to be alone with ourselves, then we lose our very ability to think. We risk getting caught up in the crowd. We risk being ‘swept away’, as she put it, ‘by what everybody else does and believes in,’” Stitt writes. She warns that in our hyper-connected world, the risk of losing a connection to ourselves and the ability to think independently is greater than ever.Ephrat Livni
These extreme abridgements are like Twitter, but for reading. I mean this both in the sense that they’re short (well, they’re abridgements), but also in the sense that they seem to fit this notion of reading as something to churn through so you can rush off to the next thing. All while completely skipping past the substance that reading offers.
Reading is an opportunity to be still for a time, and delve into ideas, stories, other worlds. It’s not about scanning some quick gist, deluding yourself into thinking you’ve somehow grasped the essence of the book.
As Rubin points out, this is partly about exploitation –
My worry is that the revolt, in this case, is against reading. These millions are not consuming the works, they are instead like vultures, tearing away at the liver and intestines of a book that has already been gutted by profiteers playing on people’s desire to feel well-read without doing the actual work of reading.
More than that, though, I think this is indicative of a social trend away from substance, and thoughtfulness, towards a much more impulsive and superficial approach to how we live our lives, and engage with the issues we face.
Om Malik touched on this in his post titled “Why we need to slow time and scale down” –
Everything is meta sized. Information, choices, inputs, and outcomes. As a result, our biological makeup is being put to test. How long can we live with an unending dopamine hits? What about the thumbs, eyes and our hearts which are facing new stresses? What about our diets that are full of sugar and are re-configuring out gut microbes?Om Malik
Let’s not be in such a rush to skip through the substance in Life. That substance is what our lives are about.