Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

01 Apr 2007, 10:22 a.m.

Ironically, I Spent Longer Writing This Than I Meant To

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2007 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

So Adam Parrish and I have different readings of a recent essaylet by Aaron Swartz. Look, I've never read any of this Steven Johnson stuff, so I can't speak to Swartz's* criticism there. But when he says "need to stop pretending that this is automatically a good thing," I think it's clear he's not saying "Steven Johnson," but "we as net mavens," and only after that calls Johnson and Doctorow apologists for shorter=better. He probably includes his previous self in that group.

Also: It's not like Swartz's completely dismissed/dismissing entertainment that contains farts (Arrested Development, The Daily Show, what have you). The gibe about "pictures of cats with poor spelling on them" is not about either cat pictures or misspellings, Adam -- it's about that particular leetspeek/catpic subgenre of internet humor, although I will concede that that sentence is the third- or fourth-weakest sentence in the essaylet.**

As I see it, Doctorow's piece says to writers, "people will read works on the screen if they fit the affordances of the screen and continuous partial attention; if you want people to read the kind of thing that doesn't, give them enough onscreen for them to like it and decide to move to the appropriate medium." Swartz is saying to technologists: "tech right now is making it easier to come down with Dorito Syndrome, and the trend is only increasing, and we should stop it." Although I am not currently in a position to act on Swartz's suggestions, I do read Reddit, so I see where he's coming from and find the gist of his argument quite plausible.

Adam, on the other hand, you're in a prestigious tech/creativity Master's program, so maybe you hear all the time about new technologies that create new affordances for enjoying long-form content and community. What am I missing?

* (I feel weird calling him "Swartz," since he's slept in my living room, but house style tells me to refer to people by their last names while discussing their ideas.)

**First: "Similarly, no one (Doctorow included, I suspect), actually prefers blog posts to novels, it's just that people tend to have more short chunks of time to read blog posts than they do long chunks of time to read novels." I think there are certainly people who prefer blog posts to novels, especially (and this feeds into Swartz's fear) if they've never exercised their capacity to gain enjoyment from longer works.
Second: "Doctorow's conclusion? Blogs are just better." I think that's too broad a reading.