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Prevalent social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook today or Twitter from yesteryear, alter how we engage with our surroundings and how we digest and present information. Unfortunately, for the majority of the population, these digital venues are where they turn to for news and where they form their worldview, and how it directly affects their ability to understand information. As of late, there have been a few articles published on how long-form reading is dying and how, ultimately, society is not in a better place for it. Steven Pinker’s work “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” is often quoted as stating that reading helped spread empathy and, thus, decreased violence. I myself had referenced Dr. Pinker’s works in the past, and I fear I may have to do so again here. The problem is greater than humanity’s empathy being in decline, which may result in higher chances of you getting hit over the head with a glass Heinz Ketchup bottle for no reason other than existing. This also negatively impacts our ability to communicate, and the now widespread use of artificial intelligence in word-processing software is not helping. Today, we’ll look into the issue with a bit greater detail and offer a few tactics for you, dear reader, to better equip yourself from the pitfalls of today’s forms of consumption.

The Detriment of Scrolling & TLDR: Declined Literacy

These social media platforms, like other news aggregate platforms, promote quick bursts of reading where the headline and the general tone of the article are all that the reader is presented with. These are quick impressions that do not require the user’s focus and attention. If you are reading this, I am going to assume that you are familiar with basic facts such as humans have evolved to be efficient beings, where they discard neurological systems and even body parts when not in use so we can allocate resources (calories) towards systems that are in use – note: I am going to assume that you have a basic undergraduate understanding of biology and psychology in order for this article not to metastasize into a textbook. Two factors have contributed greatly to our lack of literacy and ability to digest information. The first is time constraints. The second is the business models of the services that we turn to for information.

First, our time is not only under more strain as more of the population is forced to work past the normal eight-hour, five-day work week. We are also presented with exponentially more ways to spend our free time. When it comes to free time, the easiest (read most efficient, and efficient does not necessarily mean better) paths usually win. We’ll revisit how this impacts our professional lives in the next section and how most people have built a new set of behaviours to accommodate this.

When it comes to larger screens, such as our television screens, most tend to watch a single program on a streaming service until they pass out from exhaustion. Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings admitted that their biggest competitor was sleep itself.

For smaller screens, which are more relevant for this discussion, the masses turn to any number of social media platforms, usually the four owned by META, which includes Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and now Threads, as Twitter/X is busy sealing its own coffin from the inside. The smaller screens bring forward the problem that all the content is presented in a manner that keeps the user scrolling. This allows more advertisements and paid content to be scrolled past by the user, thus allowing the platform to count it as an “impression” and charge the client. I experimented with paid posts a couple of years ago, and I can affirm that one does not get their money’s worth, for these impressions are not digested or even noticed by the majority of one’s target consumer/client base. You end up paying for a lot of “impressions” that actually did not take place in reality – good luck trying to explain this to a marketing manager in a larger corporate firm.

This, along with never-ending emails from work, leads to us being rewarded for reading bodies of text as fast as possible and just getting enough to get an idea of what is being conveyed.

The problem that arises from these sets of learned behaviours is that a lot is missed in normal and important circumstances alike. Legal documents such as contracts and wills are skimmed over only to create grief at a later date. Important work emails sent after office hours that are highly detailed due to sheer necessity are glossed over, and important issues are not addressed, which can lead to crunch that can dismantle one’s workforce within a quarter. For academic papers and business reports, often the abstract is all that is thoroughly read, and the table of contents is then used to hunt down the specific information needed, resulting in a loss of context, which leads to misrepresenting data and sources.

When it comes to the act of reading, through learned behaviour, our endurance and capacity for reading larger bodies of text that have more than one complex or competing idea or data set has become severely hampered. This is one of the reasons I love being around lawyers; yes, proceed with your jokes about how I am the only person who loves lawyers. Due to their training and work, they do not miss details and look for discrepancies in them – the Devil’s in the detailsindeed.

Before we go over what we can do both as someone who consumes information and publishes information, we have to look at two factors that come into play that we normally would not attribute to the quality of our abilities to do so.

The Device and Place Matters


The two factors that greatly contribute to our ability to consume and write information are the places/environments where these activities take place, and the devices we use to read and write.

First, the place that we choose, or in reality, are forced to do these acts, are nuanced, and all have to do with our individual learned habits and patterns of behaviour. For instance, the middle of the canned goods aisle in a busy grocery store may not seem like the best place to review a complex contract in the form of an attached PDF to an email, but, many professionals have learned to make this and any place that they are in work. Scenes of someone on their way home from work in such an environment stopping what they are doing to tend to such work while on the go are not uncommon. Their children often recognize this and start daydreaming or playing while staying within their parent’s peripheral vision as to not alarm or distract their occupied parent.

The unexpected power of the hotel bed when it comes to reading endurance.

Another example is your bed. I recently was astonished as to how well a hotel bed lends itself to long-form reading while my own bed does not. I can devour forty to seventy pages an hour while on a hotel bed, but at home, I am fast asleep by the third sentence. The bed also poses an interesting dynamic and specific set of learned behaviours when it comes to couples. Some couples do their reading before they sleep while in bed. They somehow come to a mutually agreed time to draw up the blankets and shut off the lights. This form of intellectual intimacy is one that is shared amongst many couples, and this is when they do their last hurrah of quality long-form reading for the day.

Where we choose to set up our laptops to work at home or in cafes also impacts the level of focus available to us. This is not only due to the level of distractions but also our motivations for the given environment. Thus, where we actively choose to read and write impacts the quality of our reading and writing.

The second factor that greatly influences our capacity to digest and write information is our device. First, our relationships with our phones are complex and unique to each individual. Some have the luxury of having a dedicated mobile phone for work, and the act of interacting with that particular device sets a separate set of behavioural patterns in motion. From observing people dive into their phones as they mindlessly scroll, it seems as if their brain waves enter a resting state, which is why we are so addicted to our phones. The trouble is that our ability to track and keep complex information in our heads is greatly diminished while in a resting state. This once again, leads to misinterpretations and for people to turn to sources that offer the path of least resistance for their information – one that agrees with their prejudices. We’ll approach the matter of how as a writer to avoid your work being misinterpreted or being read by the wrong audience soon.

Our set behaviours for our laptops and tablets are telling, for the majority of our laptops are equally capable of providing the multimedia experiences that our tablets do, yet many choose to travel with both and reserve their recreational usage for the tablet. An example of greater nuance on this topic is that I use two keyboards specifically for long-form writing sessions. They are keyboards by HHKB, and their soft and silent keys set a rhythm and specific set of learned behaviours that are better suited for the severity and intensity needed for long-form writing. Over the last year, I have created a set of learned behaviours when it comes to writing, and when I need to write a lot and write well, I turn to these keyboards. The same goes for taking notes throughout the day. I could easily write them on my phone in the notetaking application, but instead, I use notebooks and a specific set of pens. Some call these rituals when, in fact, they are learned behaviours that help guide our mindset to be most effective and productive.


Now that we have the groundwork of the factors that go into how well we read and write long-form information, we can now go into how we can take advantage of these facts and leverage them in our favour.

Tools for the Reader

The best path forward to ensure that you are fully engaged and establishing yourself for the optimal reading experience is generally the same as for writing – start setting routines and habits that facilitate good reading habits.

This can be done by reading your news on your laptop browser and not your phone. The act of separating yourself from the one constant in all our lives alone will reinforce a new set of behaviours. The biggest challenge to accomplish this is to successfully ignore your phone’s gravitational pull. Setting a rule such as “I will not check my phone unless a notification goes off” and setting your notifications for matters that actually warrant attention is one approach. I have tried this and call it the “unless pinged approach,” and it has worked for me over the last few years.

Setting aside distinct times and places for quality reading also helps, much like all of the advice we are pummeled with regarding getting better sleep. Specific chairs, lighting, rooms, and times all go a long way toward cementing good reading habits. I know several people who read the news while they are on the toilet, and this is not a conducive environment to forming one’s perception of their world.

Tools for the Writer


Now that we have the easy part out of the way with reading habits, let us now focus on the harder part: writing. First, let’s tackle the easiest factor, which I have a fair degree of personal experience with out of the way, and that is which platform you are writing your information on. If you choose to write a complex body of text on social media or one that offers an opinion that may upset people, social media is not the place to do it. A couple of years ago, I wrote a caption on an Instagram post regarding street photography and the abuse of the term by those who did not have an education on the matter and who were only approaching it as their avenue of expression due to it being cheaper in terms of equipment, technique, and composition; as used by the offenders. There was one photography enthusiast who took great offence to the post, and based on their questions (which were aimed at starting an argument, which they never got), they did not understand the caption, for they did not have the capacity to understand the body of text due to their lack of literacy. From this experience, I learned to put all of my long-form writing on my website and force people to click a link in the Bio of the Instagram account in order to access them. This breaks their scrolling and low-effort reading habits and forces them to shift their mindset to one that is not closely related to a rested state of mind. This also weeds out people I generally do not consider my core audience and those I have no interest in reaching.

When people form opinions and try to make arguments from a resting mental state, they are susceptible to emotional reactions rather than those of a well-thought-out position. For news items, this can be ideas that lean towards one’s prejudices and racist tendencies, and within the various enthusiast spaces, this can lead to neck-beardism. Neck beard, which is a derogatory term for enthusiasts who have little to no practical knowledge in a field that they are emotionally invested in, get all of their information second hand, usually from the internet, and within the media, they are illustrated as overweight men who have not shaved in over a week – hence the term neck beard.

Examples of a neck beards within the watch enthusiast community are two overweight men who have no diving or watch making experience. One of them talked about how he appreciated his dive watch as a tool for when he did his sleep apnea test, and the other did the same after he survived a series of mosquito bites. Both have a long history of talking down to others in their respective enthusiast field and often say false information while doing so. These sorts of people exist in every realm, whether it be professional or personal, and they are prime examples of people who suffer from the TLDR syndrome and not being able to read anything too complex or too long.

How we spend our free time impacts our quality of life, which includes our capacity for writing and reading, and this was covered in an article I wrote over a year ago about the consequences. In this article, topics of mental fitness and that of states were covered, and real-life examples were given. I suggest that you read that article to reinforce the information given in this article. You can find that article here.

The tools and devices that we use impact our realtime literacy and comprehension skills through learned behavioural routines and habits.

As promised at the start of this article, we are going to briefly cover artificial intelligence and how using such tools can lead to writing mistakes, which can undermine your long-form writing goals. Writing tools such as Grammarly are inescapable and used almost everywhere one goes. The issue that arises with these tools that (supposedly) leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence is in how they are used. Because they are drawing on their ever-growing database, which naturally levels the playing field when it comes to the use of language, more nuanced uses of language can be misinterpreted. If the writer blindly relies on the suggestions made by the software, they leave themselves to mistakes. The other direct effect of using such tools is that everyone sounds and reads the same. This is where I would direct you to another one of Dr. Pinker’s works titled “The Sense of Style” and Kingsley Amis’ “The King’s English” for the basics of writing for an audience. There, I have met my quota for referencing Dr. Pinker. Lastly, these tools also make writers lazy. We come to rely on them to help smoothen out our sentences, but, often for more complex ideas to be conveyed, smoothness will sacrifice clarity – remember, being efficient does not always equate to clarity.


Final Thoughts


Like every other aspect of our lives that can degrade over time and that we would like to improve, it requires effort. If you do not use the physical body part or neurological system, it degrades. If you stop walking altogether, your legs will atrophy. The same goes for your cognitive capabilities. In order to keep in mental and physical shape, we need to put in the “reps” and keep working on them.

As it stands today, we know this for physical training, but not for keeping our cognitive systems up to the standard that is needed to be an effective member of society. Given the tools and reasonings above, I hope that you are now better equipped to recognize your shortcomings as they occur (as do I, constantly), and that you now know what to do to overcome them.


Time of writing, October 26th, 2023