No one online reads anything

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

No one online reads anything, Freddie deBoer laments:

In my time writing online, which is approaching 10 years now, I’ve never seen anything like the current moment when it comes to the utter collapse of any communal expectation that people will read the work they’re commenting on.

I will read an interesting article, want to see what people are saying about it, pop the link in the Twitter search bar, and I will be absolutely amazed at what % of the reactions demonstrate that the people talking about it haven’t actually read the piece. You will see conversations about various essays that go on for dozens and dozens of exchanges where it is glaringly clear that not one person in the conversation actually has a grasp of what the essay says. And these aren’t just randoms, either, but usually writers themselves, people who have built careers producing text. Go to any event where established people give young writers advice and they always say, you have to read to write! But my impression is that many, many professional writers don’t.

I get that there are structural reasons that professional writers don’t read. I get that it’s not all a character or integrity issue. I get that the modern media economy forces people to be producing at a pace that makes reading enough difficult. I’m not unsympathetic. But at some point people have to make the personal decision to say “I’m not going to comment on something I haven’t read.”

I meet people IRL who know me from writing a lot more often, now that I live in New York. And sometimes there’s tension. I’ll be introduced by a friend of a friend to someone who is sure they don’t like me. If I get the chance, I’ll eventually try to tease out which of my opinions they reject. Likewise, I sometimes challenge people on social media or in my email to list their actual grievances, to tell me what I believe that is so objectionable. Often enough – maybe a majority of the time – it will turn out that they are mad at me about something I don’t believe and have never said. I am fine with being controversial or personally disliked for what I actually think and have actually said. But at present my online reputation has almost nothing to do with me or my actual beliefs, because no one online reads anything.


  1. Kirk says:

    News flash for Mr. deBoer:

    Ain’t nobody never really read nuthin’, even in his imaginary “good old days”. All that’s changed is that it’s now visible to him as a writer.

    Reading is hard. And, when I say that, I mean that to actually engage with and give due consideration to the author’s work requires, well… Work. And, most people never bothered with that, even back in the old days. I would wager damn good money that the vast majority of those old “Great Books” sets that all the pseudo-intellectuals used to set great store on and buy at exorbitant prices were likely never opened, and just sat on prominent display in the homes of their owners. Virtue-signaling for the intellectually vacant, basically–And, it’s no different than what Mr. deBoer produces today. People just want to say they read stuff, and they may have actually done so, but it’s literally in one ear and out the other–Engagement with the vast majority of people just isn’t going to happen, and without engagement, all Mr. deBoer can expect is surfaces. People aren’t thinking about his work, they’re reacting to what they skimmed off the top, without actually doing the real work of engaging their brains and considering his careful arguments and reasoning.

    And, that’s the way it’s always been. All the old elite “intellectual journals” had this same problem, and now the only thing that’s really changed is that Mr. deBoer is getting more direct feedback from the public, without the intermediary effect of dealing mostly with editors and the publishers.

    Most people are simply not engaged with this stuff; try to have an “intellectual conversation” with the average human, and they’re going to look at you as though you’re quite mad–And, sadly, they’re mostly right, when it comes to the vast majority of the self-proclaimed “virtuous intellectuals”.

  2. Jeff R. says:

    I am surprised to hear that a 140 character micro-blogging app does not promote meaningful intellectual discourse.

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