It takes a long time to finish a dissertation. Even if you disregard the time lost to teaching and the other non-dissertation-writing pursuits that fill up your days in graduate school, we’re still looking at several years devoted to writing 300 pages that will only be read by four people, and which will then have to be revised for several more years before they can be turned into a book…a book that it’s unlikely more than a few hundred people will ever check out from the library, never mind read from cover to cover.
So why does dissertation writing take so long? In the past (by which I mean the 80s), it maybe made sense. Consider this: in the past, if you wanted to read an article in an obscure journal, you had to physically go to the library, dig it out from the stacks, photocopy it, and take it home. Okay, yes, sometimes we still do that. But think about this: how did you know that obscure article existed in the first place? You couldn’t just search MLA. I suppose you started out by looking in the card catalogue, finding some books that maybe looked relevant, going to get them, and reading them to see if they actually were. If they weren’t, you’d just wasted several hours; if they were you went into their bibliographies, looked up some sources, trudged down to the stacks to get them, read them, and discovered whether those sources, in turn, were relevant or not, and the whole cycle started over. If, in the middle, you forgot some minor detail or some important date, you couldn’t just google it; you had to head back over the the library and look it up all over again. Instead of using ILL once every six months, you had to use it for every single article and book that your library didn’t have a physical copy of, and you had to submit your requests in person, during business hours. Oh, and you had to take all your notes by hand, and you had to write your entire book-length dissertation ON A FREAKING TYPEWRITER. There was no such thing as cut and paste - if you wanted to cut a paragraph and move it onto another page, you either had to rewrite several pages or bust out some actual scissors.
I’m getting exhausted just thinking about it. No wonder dissertation-writing takes a decade! Except that now we don’t have to do any of that! Now everything happens super quickly, as if by magic. Anyone using any common sense should realize that we should be writing our dissertations in half as much time as our advisors did. But it still takes as long as it ever! Why? Because now we waste several years procrastinating on the internet, and nobody bothers to yell at us. Academia is weird, when you think about it.