Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Have you see that short form online? Know what it signifies? Your kids do, guaranteed.

“TLDR”, “tl;dr” and other variants simply mean “Too Long, Didn’t Read”. They are an admission of intellectual laziness delivered with trademark millennial bravado; a backhanded shot in the chops to a writer who probably labored over words about to be summarily ignored. They are also almost invariably accompanied by a disparaging comment about the thing not-quite-read.

Farhad Manjoo over at Slate has a fascinating piece about how people read online. The upshot: they don’t. Well, not very well at least.

Preaching to the Recently-Converted

Manjoo is preaching to the recently-converted: I had begun to observe something similar in my own online reading habits. His comment about firing off a link to a “great article” before you’ve actually finished reading it yourself is dead-on: I do it all the time.

Something is not right here.

Nevertheless, Manjoo goes on to assert this sort of ultra-casual, disengaged browsing of web pages is incredibly common, and he has crunched the numbers to demonstrate it:
“Readers can’t stay focused. The more I type, the more of you tune out. And it’s not just me. It’s not just Slate. It’s everywhere online.”
Over 40% of readers disengage from any given article without having touched their scroll button. By pixel 1000 (about four paragraphs in, on average), fully half the readers have departed. Only 25% make it past the 1600th pixel.

Scroll Depth and Commenting

Worse, data compiled by online traffic analyst Josh Schwartz makes a strong case for a very weak relationship between scroll depth (the amount of an article a reader reads) and sharing/commenting. In other words, people opine as freely about the content of articles they haven’t read properly (or at all) as they opine about those they have.

Tl;dr. Too bad, so sad.

Wow. This explains quite a bit, I think. I have noticed a disturbing tendency among online commenters to ask questions that are answered three paragraphs down in the very same post, or to post comments that demonstrate they do not in the least comprehend the most basic things about the content they have only just read. Since there is almost no correlation between the tendency to comment and the tendency to have read the article on which you are commenting, it is likely that a significant percentage of the compliments or critiques we read online are profoundly ill-informed.

The Online Indignation-Fest

Not only that, but it helps to account for the ubiquity of online indignation-fests. It’s not surprising that internet flash mobs gather so rapidly once we realize that most of those doing the clamoring have not scrolled past the headline and first paragraph of the article about which they are foaming at the mouth. They are simply regurgitating the approved rage of others.

Christians too, you ask? Well, anecdotally, I have to say so. While our regular commenters are best characterized as both intelligent and thoughtful, some of our drive-bys from social media links are less so. And of the negative comments we do receive, a significant percentage attribute to the author something he simply did not say. It feels a little mean-spirited having to reply, “Er, maybe you should read that paragraph again …”

Slow to Hit Enter

James says this:
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God,”
and the book of Proverbs says:
“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
Both writers of scripture lived in days where the average expression of opinion was verbal, and correspondingly fleeting. Today, the opinion you express online in a fit of pique is preserved indefinitely for all to see. What James says about speech holds quadruply true for the Christian typing back a reaction to what he or she reads online.

Quick, Slow, Slow

First, be quick to hear, meaning pay attention to what is being said. Don’t get angry or enthused until you figure out what the writer actually wrote, and what it means. Don’t yank statements out of context and then get all worked up about them. Don’t assume that there’s a deep, dark, unstated implication buried between the lines, or that because someone is saying ‘A’, which you don’t agree with, they must therefore also believe ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’, which are the usual heresies attendant to believing ‘A’.

Second, be slow to speak, and slower still to write anything down. I am trying to make it a regular practice to stop and pray before responding to anything that irks me online. A couple of weeks back, I was fuming over something posted on another website, but decided it would be wrong to respond in anger. I left it with the Lord and went to bed. In the morning when I re-read the offensive comment, I realized the writer had carefully qualified what she said in the surrounding paragraphs in ways that nullified most of my objections. The ambiguity that remained could easily be attributed to sloppy writing rather than malice. I decided not to bother responding at all.

Hey, better than starting a flamewar over a misunderstanding.

Third, be slow to anger. “Human anger,” James says (I like the NIV’s take here), “does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” I think that’s probably the sense of it. Nothing good can come of the sort of ire that engages my old nature. At best I may avoid abject unrighteousness by channeling it productively or controlling it, but in and of itself it is nothing more than emotional chaos. (Godly anger is another story, but even that is rarely best expressed in the absence of prayer and consideration of the relevant scriptures.)

Discretion is the Better Part

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with reading casually. It’s easy to shift into browse mode after a long day on the job. I can’t claim to have fully read all the internet articles I started (many were not worth it), and I certainly wouldn’t want to be held to some sort of attentiveness standard or have my reading comprehension regularly tested. Life is complicated enough.

But “TLDR” Christianity? I don’t think so. If I didn’t read it and read it well, I’m better not to comment at all. My self-restraint will set me apart from my fellow human beings, at least for a few moments.

For a Christian, that’s not the worst approach in the world.

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