Michiko Kakutani – “Text Without Context,” The New York Times

michiko kakutani

Michiko Kakutani became book critic in the cultural news department at The New York Times in January 1983. She had served as a reporter covering cultural news since 1979, when she joined The Times. Ms. Kakutani came to The Times from Time magazine, where she had been a staff writer since 1977. Before that she was a reporter at The Washington Post. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, on Jan. 9, 1955, Ms. Kakutani received a B.A. degree in English from Yale University in 1976. Ms. Kakutani lives in Manhattan.

In her recent essay “Texts Without Context,” New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani argues that web two-point-oh innovations have led to a world where–”More people are impatient to cut to the chase, and they’re increasingly willing to take the imperfect but immediately available product over a more thoughtfully analyzed, carefully created one. Instead of reading an entire news article, watching an entire television show or listening to an entire speech, growing numbers of people are happy to jump to the summary, the video clip, the sound bite — never mind if context and nuance are lost in the process; never mind if it’s our emotions, more than our sense of reason, that are engaged; never mind if statements haven’t been properly vetted and sourced.” Kakutani’s piece seems to be prompted by David Shields’s recent “manifesto” Reality Hunger, which she points out is a symptom of “a culture addicted to speed, drowning in data and overstimulated to the point where only sensationalism and willful hyperbole grab people’s attention.” She continues: “Given the constant bombardment of trivia and data that we’re subjected to in today’s mediascape, it’s little wonder that noisy, Manichean arguments tend to get more attention than subtle, policy-heavy ones; that funny, snarky or willfully provocative assertions often gain more traction than earnest, measured ones; and that loud, entertaining or controversial personalities tend to get the most ink and airtime.

Kakutani keenly points out the stakes of such a facile media-land, even as she posits the real good that can come from technologies. In short, we seem to be heading into a future obsessed with immediacy to the point that sustained, analytical reading will not only no longer have place or merit with the general public, it will also be increasingly difficult as we learn to “read” new media in new ways. Put another way, we are becoming shallow.

Twitter – @michikokakutani

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