Recently Tim O'Reilly wrote a good piece on how all media and culture is being driven to shorter and shorter formats. Youtube clips are the new TV. The web is famously scanned more than read. Bloggers know full well that shorter posts generate more attention than longer posts. This text was relegated to the wiki, because I didn't want to put it up on my blog. O'Reilly had come to the same conclusion with his own publications: Short works.
I think it is very unclear for each of these cases to what extent the technology defines the fragmentation and to what extent it is "what the audience wants", but it is tempting to dub our present society The Age of Fragments and redub The Hyper Complex Society to this maybe more immediately understandable name.

Fragmentation means all kinds of things: It means our world view necessarily becomes a collage of ideas both because none of the ideas can cover everything but also because, as O'Reilly points to, none of the ideas even claim to cover everything. They are self-awarely incomplete and informed by being part of this fabric of fragments.
This change, this self awareness, makes previous "critical" interpretations of the present generation of media observers as "the sampling generation" meaningless. The sampling generation indicates wilful cherry-picking from a greater whole, but in a world of fragments you can only sample, everything is a sample, and the term becomes meaningless. It's like calling blog readers "excerpters", because they are engaged with a fragmented medium.
What changes in the age of fragments is the purpose of reading though. I'm struggling to find good terms for the change - maybe somebody in the humanities could help me here. It seems to me that when you're concerned with fragments the point of view remains with you in a different sense than it does with the longer formats. When you engage with a novel, a monograph the immersion is deeper and you are so to speak surrendering to the frame of reference or the point of view of the novel. And part of the form is the claim that it is indeed a universe you could surrender to. That claim is absent in the shorter formats. So the purpose of reading cannot be the succesful surrender - to "get" the novel. It seems to me the purpose is more one of immediate effect. Did the fragment interest you/grab you. When there is no effect you move on to find other fragments with an effect.

This change in purpose can seem immoral and hedonistic to an observer used to the old purpose, but it is not really a good description, since what it really is is economic. We're looking for "stuff", whatever that is, that has an effect on us and changes us or changes our behaviours. The fragmentation represents an optimization of sorts. We're trying to locate the good bits that provoke as much change per attention minute as possible.

There's a new kind of intellect at play in this: The collection of effects. Services such as del.icio.us are collector's tools. In a sense culture has turned into nature again: There's a certain randomness and abundance of cultural artifacts that changes the cultural landscape from something deliberate with discernible makers into something more vibrant, random and alive, and we are all natural historians of this new world.

These are all temporary thoughts on this question. More to come. Including, I'm sure, completely different opinions.


Notes:
Hidden in the comments in O'Reilly's post is a link to this fascinating slidedeck about modularity in nature.

Fragmentation and economics: Further notes from O'Reilly.