Saturday, November 06, 2004

Surfing, Browsing, Blogging...Reading? 

This surprisingly old panel by Cincinnati Enquirer cartoonist Jim Borgman is making the blogrounds:



But it seems to me blogexplosion regulars know the real news about blogs is better expressed in this cartoon, from Lee Lorenz in this week's New Yorker:


Which brings up an interesting point: people don't really read on screen that much.

Not deeply. Not broadly. Not well.

You already knew that intuitively. Like the students I work with, if you really need to absorb some text off the online universe, you print it. And if you take an afternoon off to do some serious reading, you spend that time with good old paper and ink.

But most people still don't get it. Like the students I work with, you probably don't print out your drafts of writing to edit them. And in most cases, since you're not writing a research paper, you don't print digital documents to read them. But you somehow believe that your reading and writing remain "just fine."

And despite there being real value in the conception that folks who grow up in a digital-print universe do indeed habitually think better in type than in handwriting -- that, in other words, your "native medium" for reading and writing is more likely than not to be screen-based -- it is an error of logic to go that next step, and assume that, therefore, this is the best kind of reading or writing you could do.

In fact, we all make that mistake of mind. But it's still a pretty stupid thing to believe.

Seriously. We already know that reading off a screen results in roughly 25% less overall comprehension -- why else have we begun to tailor our digital writing to these shortform paragraphs, the better to catch the skimmer's eye?

And our linguisitics show we know this going in. You're a surfer, not a diver; uninterested in immersion, you skim the waves. And you're reading this text, right now, on a browser, yes? Or perhaps, if you're geeky enough, on a news reader, since we all know "reading" news isn't anywhere near as deep as reading literature or, say, autobiographical non-fiction.

This is why I believe that the NaNoWriMo concept, in which most folks put their text up on the screen, and which is primarily driven by blogging and other on-line meme-passing, is inherently flawed for all but a very few.

It is why we cannot realistically expect that blogexplosion, which shrinks our screens that much more, adds a new layer of 30-second clockwatching immediacy to our blogreading and, by definition, rewards us for moving on, actually leads to habitual long-term reading for pretty much anyone.

It is why I'm ending this entry prematurely, to settle in screenless with the books I bought today -- Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys and Kim Stanely Robinson's 1994 Hugo Award winner Green Mars -- and why I bought such high-falutin' books in the first place.

'cause I been surfin' way too much, and these short waves are killing me.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:22 PM |

Comments:
I guess thats why most of my rants are at least a page of text as I'm a reader of books. A lot of these short paragraphs youe mention are comprised of a single run on sentance.
 
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I don't pay much attention to Blog Explosions 30 second rule. I'm a reader. If one post is interesting, then I generally expect there to be others worth a second look. I suppose that's why I'm not one of Blog Explosions top surfers or whatever it's called.
 
I tend to get sucked into the 30 second rule a lot, too. I still try to read at least one post per blog I come across, though, even if that takes more than 30 seconds and if I want to read more, I blogmark it and come back to it. By the way, I loved Wonder Boys. It's a good book. The movie is pretty good, too, if you havent't seen it already.
 
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Great observations. I agree with you. I remember when I was studying in college for my business degree I prefered to print out docs and read them instead of on the screen. Now as I age, 25 years old now, I really don't mind reading from screen as much.

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Well yes, of course. Reading from blog, though, is so unlike reading any other way as to be completely separate, for me. Also, writing for blog. Although, I must say I no longer write in longhand, as even I can't read the result. If I need to actually "write" I'll use a typewriter, and isn't that just as machine-ly inclined?
Regardless, the blog and the "real" are to very separate and not equal things, to me. I've read a lot of great blog entries, but none as good as a good book. Or even a good chapter, for that matter. I've written better "on blog" then elsewhere, only because I don't write elsewhere. It's just incredibly easier to write this way and I'm lazy. Plus, what I write is sent to a hidden place, never to be seen by those it might hurt. You might argue that no web site is at all hidden and you'd be right, but it's hidden much deeper than any piece of paper could ever be, and that's good enough for me.
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i hadn't actually heard that statistic about comprehension on-screen vs. off-screen, but it makes a lot of sense to me. first, it's just harder to read on screen, harder physically i mean, no matter how high your resolution is set, it's no where near the printed word. but also, and probably more importantly, we interact differently with a digital medium than we do with the printed word. we interact differently with television than we do with newspapers. digital seems to in some way equate visual, which isn't really the case, but it still has an influence on things.

having said all that... i used to always print out whatever i was working on to edit it. when i was in university i always printed out essays, when i wrote reports at work i always printed them out. with my trusty blue or purple pen i would proceed to mark that sucker up. but, i have to say, i've started doing more on-screen editing these days. in some ways it is far more effective 'cause i can move chunks of text easily and then see how it reads.

my, i've rambled for a long time, apparently this topic struck a bit of a cord with me. *grin*
 
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