Thursday, March 14, 2013

Another Nail in the Coffin for the Long Attention Span

As a heavy user of Google Reader, I am one of the many who reacted negatively to Google's decision to shut down the service at the beginning of July. I have not actively been part of the petitioning process to persuade Google to reconsider. I recognize that Google does what it does on the basis of revenue stream. Google Reader was never designed to be a cash cow. It was probably just a matter of time until Google decided that they no longer wanted to feel charitable about it any more.

However, while I cannot direct my wrath at Google, I can still complain about what amounts to a good-riddance column written by Ben Parr for CNET. Fortunately, I can credit Parr with giving a clear statement of his position at the very beginning of his column:
Like some of you, I was once a power user of Google Reader. I needed it to do my job. But as Twitter started to gain steam, I started checking it less and less. It was less a pleasure and more a chore. 
And then suddenly, I just stopped. I created a Twitter account to track tech news, and I never looked back.
I must confess that this argument gave me a violent reality check. Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have thought of Twitter as an substitute for Google Reader; but then I have never thought of Twitter as having any utility for the writing that I do. The reason is simple enough, the writing that I do for depends on my having to read material of a fair amount of substance, rather than 140-character tweets. Through Google Reader I track both blogs and periodicals that provide articles of varying length concerned with the performance of music. On the whole I found that I could use the Google Reader display as a convenient way to decide which of those articles demanded more serious attention. To even suggest that Twitter can provide similar utility is nothing short of ludicrous.

Nevertheless, it is a symptom of a disease whose progress (I must admit) I have been afraid to track. That is the deterioration of attention span. As its name implies, Google Reader was designed for readers; but, thanks to Twitter (and other tools that care more about social networking than about content), reading has become a dying art. The very idea that someone might have something to say that deserves more than a few glances at a computer screen has become so "old school" that it no longer carries any currency.

Thus, for better or worse, I attention will now be devoted to finding a viable alternative for managing my RSS streams. If the petitions work, I shall be happy. However, it will be clear that Google Reader will be on life-support. Thus, it would probably be best for me to find a good alternative now, rather than trying to cling to it until its very last gasp.

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