There’s a clip from the Pixar movie “Up” that really describes modern reading habits.
When applied to reading, this clip represents how hard it is for today’s students to get through dense texts, or even light texts, without being diverted. They don’t know how. Perseverance is part of the issue; another is resourcefulness – they won’t spend time thinking about unknown vocabulary in context, they don’t know where to look it up (I tell them it’s okay to use their smartphones, and my permissiveness excites, shocks, and/or stupefies them).
Why is this? According to journalist Nicholas Carr, the problem is the Internet.Okay! Congratulations on clicking through. Now how many of you noticed that I put three links in the intro there? How many of you clicked on one of them? According to Carr, the style of reading on the internet is changing the way we think. He bases his hypothesis on a study that found that internet users
exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site.”
This is evidence, Carr says, of a reading style that
puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else…Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.
He expands on his argument in his book “The Shallows” (review), where he argues that the ‘old style’ of reading required “sustained, unbroken attention” is undone by the hyper-linked nature of today’s reading:
Simply ignoring online distractions does not work. We can choose not to click a hyperlink or open an e-mail message—but ironically, the fact that our brains must make this split-second decision to not be distracted is in itself enough of a distraction to break our concentration.
He’s not taking with the interconnected, linking nature of the web – he’s taking issue with the interruptions that it invites. Even e-books have links to other places. In our blog posts, we’re encouraged to engage in this type of linking that Carr warns us about. Heck, we’re encouraged to do it in our pen-and-paper classes by incorporating QR Codes – which I did the other week (example – see Document 3 therein).
We can support linking, though, while avoiding the constant interruptions. I think Wikipedia actually has a decent implementation: include a “Further Readings” section at the end of your posts – at least if you feel they require deep thinking =) Then include links, along with a short description, there. That way your readers can read, think, and follow your links – while preserving the solitary thoughtfulness that has characterized literacy for decades past.
↬ Nicholas Carr
“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” – Voltaire
Mea culpa. Nick Carr reviews the numerous people who already implemented my suggestion here: http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2010/05/experiments_in.php