I don’t care what you think while I’m reading this book OR the endless search for the perfect sound bite

Image of a book page from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I was reading Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years on my iPad using Kindle when I flipped the page and saw a passage underlined with a dashed line.

“Hmmm, what’s this,” I asked myself. I never highlight passages in a book unless I am working on a paper and I forgot my post-it notes. (I have a literary theory that is loosely based on Stanley Fish‘s resurrection of affective criticism, but I won’t go into that right now… maybe later; Serious lit types hate anything affective. Phhttt!)

So I clicked on it and a window pops up telling me that 151 other people highlighted the passage. I was immediately outraged. How dare Amazon have the audacity to reach into MY book that I had paid for and think it ok to mark up my book nilly-willy with other people’s thoughts. How dare they screw up my reading and discovery experience. I went through all sorts of levels of rage and mistrust and eventually settled on this behavior being only one in a larger context of online behaviors. We don’t read anymore to discover ideas, to think critically through issues or to seek an understanding of complex ideas but to discover nuggets of wisdom, as known as the “quotable passage” or the “sound bite.”

Once we’ve found that nugget, we dust it off and highlight it so that others who come after us need only look for our dashed lines and not have to slog through the first 200 or so pages of babble prior to it that was just the writer’s excuse to get a book published and the publisher’s justification to charge us an insane amount of money. “Tear down these walls surrounding knowledge and wisdom,” goes the rallying cry of the consuming public. “Information needs to be free!”

We’re impatient with knowing things, which gave rise to CNN Headline News, Top 10 lists of anything, just the facts, ma’am, the bulleted Powerpoint presentation, give me the bottom line and dare I say, Twitter. We scour for and happily retweet banal, stupid crap from well-known twitterati that sounds anything like pithy, wise quotes. We draw conclusions about news based on headlines in newspapers, articles and blogs. We happily “report” out “facts” from CNN that were presented in a 10-30 second segment with the depth of understanding as an expert scientist. We don’t allow our leaders to fully articulate a complex position, instead only scan for that quotable sound bite that will play well over and over on the news, late-night tv and at cocktail parties.

We highlight passages in books or look for the highlighted passages from otherss to display our wisdom like a proud peacock without fully understanding how and why we arrived where we did.

We’re becoming a culture of “idiots, full of sound and fury” who know everything but understands nothing. This is why the Internet is making us dumber. We shortchange the journey in search of the destination. Everything now must be a destination or it is a waste of time and effort. Even this blog article you are reading right now, many of you are trying to sum it all up to a 140 character retweet. Can’t be done because it shouldn’t be done. (The title was intentionally long to keep folks from blindly retweeting. If you must retweet, re-write the title in your own words about what you took away. Or not, I don’t care.)

Discuss — if you can. (Warning: Only the people who actually read the entire book without highlighting the punctuating “moral lessons” will understand how ironic it is to highlight anything in this book.)

3 Replies to “I don’t care what you think while I’m reading this book OR the endless search for the perfect sound bite”

  1. Ok here’s why the nuggets work: they’re catalysts and ignite a thought process that may be completely off the path the original author was headed meandering on. They’re little flashes of wisdom or complete crap, but maybe that one reader/interpreter takes it into a new and interesting direction.
    But then, even when you give people the whole sermon in the uncensored/unedited and un- highlighted version… They will still hear what they want to hear and take away from it what they needed. No matter what.
    It’s, uh, what all of us in marketing use and abuse. Isn’t it?

    Not the depth some of us (I may be part of that) are looking for but , it’s the way it is.

  2. As an aside I need to add that no matter how well the “nugget” concept works. If I read a book and want side notes or someone elses summary or highlights I’ll be sure to buy the cliff notes. If I had a kindle (I’m boycotting because like a coffee/tea stained book and I like bookcases that are filled to the brim) I’d freak at someone elses notes. I like my own thoughts and frankly never care what someone else “liked”, “bought” and now “highlighted”. Ugh. Rant over

  3. @V For some, they light a thought process; for most, they substitute for deep thought. I give you the entire American media as evidence. They are always pushing the interview or the speech for the sound bite. And if you need more evidence of this being a deeper problem, sit in on a college class and count the number of times someone asks, “Will this be on the test?” Then and only then will they write it as a note or highlight it in a book. Just because something is the way it is does not mean it is the best way it could be.

    But that most look for the cheap, easy way out only gives the rest of us an incredible advantage! I think that most readers bail out of “A million miles in a thousand years” at about page 50 or so because the book is booooorrrrinnnnggggg. I almost bailed but @julien taunted me to finish by tweeting he had finished and what was taking me so long. There is almost nothing to highlight until the very end.

    And that, I think is Don Miller’s point. And that, I think may be the point of all of this rapid, vapid consumption of media.

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