I have a terrible confession to make:
There are many, many times I don’t read someone’a blog entry.
I try. Really I do. I hunker down, and say yes, I’m going to read this blog entry.
And then I quit.
The reason is simple:
The paragraphs are really, really long.
Actually, I should modify that: in truth, the paragraphs really aren't that long.
But on a screen, they can sometimes seem interminable, particularly if I’m using a phone app to read them.
It’s a cruel fact that reading something on a screen is way different than reading something on the printed page.
When I’m looking at a printed page, I don’t have much to distract me. And I’m looking at a two page spread, so if a paragraph starts on the top of the left side and keeps going to the next page, I see the whole thing, and I just say “okay…long paragraph. No problem.”
It doesn’t work this way on a screen.
There is nothing more disheartening for me than seeing interminable paragraphs in someone’a blog entry.
Okay, once again, clarification: they’re not interminable. It’s just that, on a screen, they seem that way.
And there’a more. When I’m reading someone’a blog, there are plenty of ways that I can dart away from it.
—I can check the news.
—I can check my email.
—I can play a Facebook game.
—I can hop over to The Internet Movie Database to see whether the same actor from “Six Feet Under” is the guy from “The Hidden,” and find out his name.
Yes, he is. His name is Ed O’Ross, and the character he played in “The Hidden” was named Cliff Willis, and the character he played on “Six Feet Under” was named Nikolai.
I admit that I’m part of the problem here. One of my biggest regrets about my childhood is that I didn’t read long things. I enjoyed books that I could dip into, such as trivia books and “The Guinness Book of World Records.”
I also read books that had short pieces on things, often no more than two pages. And I loved the short stories of Fredric Brown, which often were fewer than 1,000 words. Here’s one of them, called “The End:”
Professor Jones had been working on time theory for many years.
"And I have found the key equation," he told his daughter one day. "Time is a field. This machine I have made can manipulate, even reverse, that field."
Pushing a button as he spoke, he said, "This should make time run backward backward run time make should this," said he, spoke he as button a pushing.
"Field that, reverse even, manipulate can made have I machine this. Field is a time." Day one daughter his told he, "Equation key the found have I and."
Years many for theory time on working been had Jones Professor.
So I admit I reluctantly, that I had a digital native’a reading attention span long before the digital age. With that said, though, I ask:
When’s the last time you read a short story on a computer screen? And no, e-readers don’t count.
Probably a long time.
You just read one.
There is nothing that makes me run and hide from a blog entry more than one in which I scroll, and see that one full paragraph now fills up my screen. And often, even if the paragraph isn’t very long by printed word standards, I keep scrolling.
And the paragraph just keeps going on and on.
I notice that I tend to read news stories more than other stories, but I think the reason is more than the fact that I put myself into a disciplined, focused mode when I read news stories. No, part of the reason is that journalists, from day one in the newsroom, learn the gospel of thrift with words.
And part of that gospel is to keep paragraphs short.
In fact, one central tenet of news stories is that one sentence paragraphs are fine.
Like this one.
I wish I could tell you that we live in an age in which people will hunker down, cast their innate nature aside, and read paragraphs that fill up three or four screens. That’s not going to happen.
No, the only way to actually get people to really read your stuff is to use simple words, and short paragraphs.
Life is cruel. But if you’ve gotten this far and you didn’t know that, you know it now.