Words? Get it away! Get it away!

March 24, 2010

Guelph Mercury, 24/03/10Screen

We did it!

Yes, dear readers, it is true. We finally found something to distract us from television.

No, it’s not sex. Come on, that requires work. Eating? No, we can do that at the same time.

I’m talking about the internet – that great, illuminated thing that brings us instant weather updates and naughty school teachers. The good news is, we’re using it more than ever before.

According to a recent poll from Ipsos Reid, Canadians are now spending more than 18 hours a week online, compared to about 17 hours watching television.

I just typed those two numbers into my online calculator, and it tells me that’s 35 hours a week staring at a screen, combined. In a year, that’s about 76 full days of round-the-clock staring at a screen, which isn’t completely crazy in a country where Mother Nature acts like she’s in menopause for a good chunk of the year. If you add going to the movies, video games and texting on handheld gadgets, there’s probably half our year gone just staring at screens.

And it will probably keep increasing. We’re now turning to the web for movies, sitcoms, sporting events, music videos — you know, the stuff television networks used to broadcast before we had Reality TV.

So what’s this all mean for these ink spots on your page? Newspapers have been crying that ink space has been vanishing for decades. That readers want shorter, more concise, more summed-up content, so they can get back to their computers and televisions more quickly.

But what do they expect? I mean, seriously, reading? That’s for suckers. Or really old people. Personally, I’m bored of this column already. I want the day’s events summed up in 30 seconds or less with trumpet music blaring in the background. Besides, there’s this monkey online …

Oh yeah, and what about those other paper things you hear about on TV. What do they call them, books? Pfft. Entire blocks of uninterrupted text, without break-out graphs, embedded videos, illustrations, bullet points, hyper links or info graphics? How is anyone supposed to read that? With so much fascinating stuff like AmIHotOrNot.com and Create Farts.com online, who wants to read a whole book, anyway? Man, that would take hours, at least.

Thank God publishers are saving us the time. Indigo recently released Kobobooks.com, a website that lets you buy only the chapters you want from a book at 99 cents a pop. At last count, they had over 2 million books available for slicing and dicing. Imagine that – just buy the juicy bits, and forget all that character-building, plot and narrative hogwash. I’m sure there’s a website out there that can summarize those parts, anyway.

Other publishers are following the trend, too, including some that allow you to mash together your favourite chapters from any books into a bound text, as a music buyer would put together a playlist of MP3s. Sweet.

So what’s the lowly printed word to do, anyway? Find a nice burial plot on a hill and die so we can slap up a tombstone that reads ‘So long, we hardly knew ye’? Or maybe just a video loop, explaining what a book was.

Are we simply too distracted or too busy now to read anything without the help of something that hits us over the head and tells us what it’s about, saving us the time of actually reading it ourselves? I don’t know, didn’t Google have a link to a study on that recently? It’s around here somewhere …

Greg Mercer is a journalist who lives in Guelph. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

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