David Remnick of The New Yorker on the need to read long articles

Posted on Oct 4, 2019

Remnick is the editor of The New Yorker and this is from his recent appearance on Stay Tuned with Preet. The whole interview was nourishing, and this part in particular was what I most needed to hear:

Preet Bharara: …In this age, where everything seems to be quick, quick, quick, and fast editing, and nobody has an attention span, tweeting is the favored form of communication by a lot of people, including the President of the United States of America, and from what I understand, The New Yorker is very, very successful at the moment, as successful I think as it has ever been: what accounts for the success of that long form in this age of no-attention-span? 

David Remnick: Because I don’t believe that it’s an age of no-attention-span. Look, I live in the same world you do. We’re all in the subway and seeing everybody on their phones. We all have the experience of reading something and in the back of their minds, you’re wondering, what’s on my phone? There’s no question that life is faster and more frenetic and distracted now than it was. And I think the phone and all that comes with it has — not to be too dramatic about this — has engendered a change in consciousness. The way human beings think from minute to minute is not uninfluenced by the presence of this little black square in front of me and the one that’s over there in front of you. There’s no question about that. But I also think that there is an absolute human hunger to know, and know more deeply, your world.

He goes on about the history of New Yorker articles on global warming, and then:

You cannot learn about your world sufficiently — whether it’s the world of foreign affairs or the cultural world — in little snippets. And when I first started going to….meetings and conferences and sessions about this new thing called the internet, there were things that people said that turned out to be right about the future, and things that turned out to be nonsense. And one of the nonsense things was: no one will read anything long on the internet; the attention spans have changed, and no one’s interested, and it’s got to be 500 words or less, and on and on and on. And that turned out to be nonsense.