A Wide Enough World but No Time: Empathy, Emersion, and Concentration in the Electronic Age

By Kathleen Ochshorn.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress,” the speaker argues that time spent alone can drag like a vast eternity or fly for those lovers who seize the moment. I’d like to argue that our very conception of time is racing with technological development, especially when we’re on the Internet. We run to keep up with the email alerts, to respond to commercial interruptions flashing on the page, to scroll through the results of a Google search, to seek updates for defunct software. While more information, including extended fictional narratives, is available in various electronic formats, as a professor I see the decline in many students’ appetite for and ability to comprehend more dense extended narratives like Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, even in the print edition, and wonder if these young people have been electronically built for speed—-for rapid shifts in focus that make even modernist stream of consciousness a slow slog. In addition, a recent study by researchers at The University of Michigan revealed that today’s college students measure about 40% lower in empathy than students 20 or 30 years ago. And while online communities abound, the most electronically connected often have more distant relations with neighbors or fellow students. Decline in empathy could also make reading less rewarding, since great literature shows us what it means to be human. Marshall McLuhan argued decades ago that electronic media would supplant print, leading to a tribal based society with a collective identity, though he may not have anticipated how fractured many of those tribes would be.

Keywords: Narrative, Pedagogy, Time

International Journal of the Book, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp.145-150. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 805.982KB).

Dr. Kathleen Ochshorn

Professor of English and Writing and Fiction Editor of Tampa Review, Department of English and Writing, The University of Tampa, Tampa, Florida, USA

I have particular interests in Irish and Caribbean literatures and the modern and contemporary novel. My critical book The Heart’s Essential Landscape: Bernard Malamud’s Hero came out in 1991. As a journalist, I publish travel and feature essays, book reviews and op-ed pieces that sometime focus on the role of technology in our lives. I am also a fiction editor of Tampa Review, a hard-bound literary and arts journal published by Tampa Press.

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