By Winnie Richards
Whether it’s a novel, a poem or a news article, you can bet the longer it is, the fewer readers you’ll have. In our fast-paced, ever-changing world of technology, there is little appetite for the lengthy. Why would I read an entire news article when the headline tells me everything? Why would I read a nine-hundred page novel when fan-fiction can tell a hot, fast paced story in a few pages? Who needs a three page poem with big words and metaphors if I can use a pretty three line poem as my Instagram caption and get three-hundred likes.
It’s not exclusively our fault. As young Americans, we have severely weakened our ability to deal with ideas and images that take time to understand. The media we take in every day both dictates and reacts to our dwindling attention spans. Now if you’re an American, that sounds pretty offensive. But really it’s not! This anomaly isn’t a product of us becoming increasingly stupid. It’s exactly the opposite! With our access to knowledge expanding exponentially with every technological advancement, we are more equipped than ever to handle difficult issues and more content with complicated ideas. Our minds are capable of fantastic feats—our abilities with a thousand-page novel are the least of our worries! The fact is, it’s not about our ability at all: it’s about our desire. We simply don’t want to read a thousand-page novel or a book-length poem. We’ve moved on.
And so what? Who cares if no one wants to read Moby Dick anymore? It’s fine if no one can be bothered to read the whole Constitution, we know the gist of it. Right? But that’s where things get tricky. No matter how you try to get around it, some things just can’t be said in a headline. Some ideas take more room to expand fully, more patience to understand truly. Look, I can tell you that Captain Ahab just really wants to catch one special whale. There, the story’s done! But I promise you will never know what that image of the great white whale meant to him, why it haunted his every breathing moment, and what exactly it means for the life that each of us lives; how and why we are Ahab, and where and who is our whale.
If I were a politician, I could easily tell you that nowhere in the Constitution of the United States does it state that an individual has the right to privacy, and I wouldn’t be lying. Thus, you couldn’t really argue with me when I expunge Roe v. Wade. But, you’d never know that the Constitution’s penumbral rights outline an almost indisputable case for the government not to be allowed to infringe upon the privacy between a woman and her doctor.
Now I’m not saying that we all need to rush out and start reading the Constitution and Moby Dick cover to cover. But the point remains: some things can be fulfilled in a few pages, in a few lines, in a few words—and some things cannot. We must be prepared and open to handle both. It is a dangerous day when we close ourselves off to information, and to art, that comes to us in a challenging and unfamiliar form.