You are what you eat was a popular saying years ago. Another old expression is: You are what you read. If that is true, wow, are we in trouble. Many people today read only haiku-length tweets or text grunts without vowels. When they read actual words, the words are written as if to be disposable. They carry thoughts the way soap bubbles carry rainbows – only for an instant and then they pop.

You are what you eat was a popular saying years ago. Another old expression is: You are what you read. If that is true, wow, are we in trouble.


Many people today read only haiku-length tweets or text grunts without vowels. When they read actual words, the words are written as if to be disposable. They carry thoughts the way soap bubbles carry rainbows – only for an instant and then they pop.


The thoughtful words, and, yes, I admit there are googols of them on Google, are not read for long – not longer than one screen-full for most people. Then the mouse clicks, the screen changes and a video starts. It plays a commercial shilling for an abdominal buster to trim the waist of the Internet user who spends more hours sitting at a screen each day than he or she does exercising each month.


But my objection is not to the form, but to the content. I read recently that a piece of writing had “editorial rigor.” Perhaps that is the operative phrase. Words that people think about before using, have precise meanings and are peer-reviewed are the words worth their digital weight.


If words were swords we would want them to be made of steel. They should cut and hold an edge. But somehow the digital age has diverted words away from precision and sharpness and replaced them with generalities and sand.


It is ironic that the World Wide Web started as a medium over which scientists could share their data and communicate their precise findings. It has morphed, in large part, into a wild frontier of shouts and shoot-outs, bits and bursts. Supporters would say it doesn’t have to be that way. Writing on the Web, they assert, can have as much editorial rigor as writing in any other format. It’s not the game; it’s the player. Plato on the Internet is still Plato.


Yes, but only seven of us will read past the first screen because many people are conditioned to moving-pictures reality and have developed a video attention span, not one that accommodates writing.


Unless you love reading, and think of it as a pleasure and not a task, then words will be ignored in favor of faster media. When you read, brain experts say, the mind is engaged and exercised. Learning by reading is more effective and longer lasting. We all know that.


Real readers demand language that cuts through clichés and rejects the ragged. They crave editorial rigor. They demand rigor because they know, in the end, they are indeed what they read.


Peter Costa is a senior editor with GateHouse Media New England and is the author of “Outrageous CostaLiving: Still Laughing Through Life,” a collection of his humor columns. It is available at amazon.com. To comment on this column, e-mail pcosta@cnc.com.