I really like this article. It is aligning with very formless thoughts I have been having over the past year about the varying qualities of information and how it can affect your minds health. Much like a food diet, I have been thinking that it is wise to cultivate a healthy “information diet” in order to preserve good mental health.
Amid frustration with my degrading attention span last year, I swore off a lot of the social media things (Twitter, most of all) to see if I could regain the ability to actually get through some books. The results were quite astonishing in my case, I was able to crack through a few books and actually focus on side projects.
Unfortunately, I am not as optimistic as the writer here that we will be able to pull out of it. Much like modern society battles overweightness, diabetes and all kinds of ailments that stem from poor diet, I think we will suffer a similar fate when it comes to moderating our information intake.
There are advertorials, advertisements, tweets, news entries, status updates, articles, books, mailing lists, and everything in between.
Since there are too many things, one needs to prioritize. But to prioritize one has to understand the value: Is there anything new for me? Will it be entertaining? Will it be factual? Will it support my point of views? Will it challenge my point of views? Is it trustworthy? Is it plausible? Is there a hidden agenda? Is it propaganda? Whose points does it support? And so on.
And how to find out at least some of these without reading the entire text? Skim it!
Now, skimming usually gives enough information about the value. But when done deliberately, one can not only assess the value, but often get the main point(s) quickly too. (Call it "speed reading")
I've had (and still have) this same "problem", but I don't consider it a problem anymore. Skimming is good, but one has to be able to turn it off.
This is what I do: skim, for quick screening and early out to avoid wasting time. Then, if there's not much time available, speed read, do a 2nd and maybe 3rd pass of skimming.
If there's plenty of time and information seems worthwhile, then sit down and start reading as if there's nothing else you can do. Like you were stuck on a cottage without your phone/tablet and it rains outside -- reading is the only thing you can do without getting bored or going to sleep. (I don't know if you can relate to this idea, you can find your own memory with a similar idea)
Since I already know there is some value, it motivates me to go on.
Now, when it comes to fact books, I try not to read from cover to cover, but chapter to chapter and then re-evaluate. Fiction books are different, since it's usually for entertainment (and of course sometimes for interesting ideas).
So, I am optimistic that people will learn new strategies and not all hope is lost.
I think much is to do with the format - reading on a small screen I feel I skim more than on a desktop monitor.
On my desktop I'm very prone to skimming and eagerly multitasking, but any text on my phone has my full undivided attention.
Incidentally I've spent a lot of time reading books on my phone, while I do most of my web browsing at a desk.
Hedonism is unsustainable... sometimes we simply need to do the healthy boring stuff. Do taxes, eat vegetables, exercise the mind and body. Ya know, adult 101.
Another factor to consider is that journalism is no longer attracting the quality of authors it used to, and that clickbait is the easiest way for online newspapers to make money.
Also, I am not a native English speaker. So most times as I formulate something in my mind, the speed difference between mind and hand causes me to miss words.
'Mental obesity' is as real as 'physical obesity'
> Much like modern society battles overweightness, diabetes and all kinds of ailments that stem from poor diet, I think we will suffer a similar fate when it comes to moderating our information intake.
So, is my tl;dr somewhat accurate?
Reading and really understanding a text is not cognitively easy. It should be a privilege for a text to be read by me.
I am a productive and I work a lot with my head. I in my free time I listen to a lot of Audiobooks (fiction and factual) and I view that as the best vessel for taking in information in a causal way. If I really need to study something then I read it. But how dare you to think your text is important enough that I study it - especially in the age of click-bait and low quality journalism. If it is an extremely good text then I will recognize it as such by myself and study it.
But I also read about 1 book a week, and I don’t struggle to devote my full attention to them. I don’t think switching between skimming and comprehensive reading is the problem, I think it’s that if you never do comprehensive reading that you’ll struggle to get back into it.
But, like anything: exercise creates ability. And so I try to keep plowing my way through.
Besides, how presumptuous is it to proclaim "how dare you to think your text is important enough that I study it"?
Not at all. I'm 30. I'm going to live to be 80 at best. I've only fifty years left. Fifty years of fifty weeks each. 2500 weeks of 7 days each. If I spend two hours reading every day, that's 35000 hours left. That's 70000 half-hour works.
Is this work in the top 70k that Man has ever written? That's the standard. I only have one life. And to me it is everything. What I read needs to be at the 99.999th percentile. Life's too short for anything else.
So these things have poor cost structure for what they provide. I like The Economist on my morning fifteen min BART for instance. And that's because that's dense.
But if I have half an hour, that's enough for me to read something worthwhile instead of this stuff.
Otoh, there are still texts that slow you down since ‘objective meaning’ per line ratio is damn high. The pace of reading naturally correlates with the quality of text as a medium of conceptions. If you’re short of interests, then skimming everything is not a primary problem. If you develop a protection against drowning in bs, it’s actually good, since it is not going anywhere.
Look at this article. It tries to be narrative of an airport, kids and older people doing something in their seats. Is this relevant? Is it a cool story worth a ‘classics’ badge? It is just bs that is mimicking an observation report. This imaginary airport arguably was not even a source of author’s initial thought on topic.
Centuries — maybe. But I think that on the scale of decades the trend is still being more wordy and attention/seo seeking.
"63 year old Barb Waterhouse puts the kettle on" ... sound of boiling water ... "and as I settle into a plush easy chair, i can see that the color of the leaves is changing" ... sounds of birds chirping ...
In what should be an article about urban planning. It's SO annoying and I can't be blamed for "skimming."
I'm reminded of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) which I tried to read recently and couldn't get through due to the writing. Here is one of the most highly "liked" quotes from GoodReads:
>> Soon after the completion of his college course, his whole nature was kindled into one intense and passionate effervescence of romantic passion. His hour came,—the hour that comes only once; his star rose in the horizon,—that star that rises so often in vain, to be remembered only as a thing of dreams; and it rose for him in vain. To drop the figure,—he saw and won the love of a high-minded and beautiful woman, in one of the northern states, and they were affianced. He returned south to make arrangements for their marriage, when, most unexpectedly, his letters were returned to him by mail, with a short note from her guardian, stating to him that ere this reached him the lady would be the wife of another. Stung to madness, he vainly hoped, as many another has done, to fling the whole thing from his heart by one desperate effort. Too proud to supplicate or seek explanation, he threw himself at once into a whirl of fashionable society, and in a fortnight from the time of the fatal letter was the accepted lover of the reigning belle of the season; and as soon as arrangements could be made, he became the husband of a fine figure, a pair of bright dark eyes, and a hundred thousand dollars; and, of course, everybody thought him a happy fellow.
Maryanne Wolf is the author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World
So I guess the article is supposed to pique your interest sufficiently to then go buy the book. I'm going to side with you here though, the majority of the book could probably be condensed to <2000 words. And anyway, the contract to publish the book probably came with a word count requirement: give me 50,000 words and we'll publish it.
A century ago newspapers were under incredibly tight constraints. Printing and typesetting was an expensive and non-trivial process so article length was severely constrained. And because printing took so long it required articles to be written and edited on a very demanding schedule. As to magazines and books, that's an entirely different matter.
The most telling example I once started to read in German and sooner or later gave up on was this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simplicius_Simplicissimus
Written 1668, it's written in a style that put a lot of long words after each other in a way that makes it hard to decipher to day. I had to follow a few obscure rules to understand things, one being not to start to try make sense of a sentence before reading up to the period. Towards the end, the wording was often upended completely by whatever additional constructs with which the author closed sentences. It isn't really because the individual words have become much different, but our use of language really shifted.
Styles and preferences change. Look at the information density of ads as you go back in time.
I remember this from about 2000 with respect to newspapers.
I was flying to Canada and bought a newspaper as is my wont when flying.
Of course, I had the newspaper pretty much finished within about a half hour to and hour after takeoff.
And then I bought a Canadian newspaper, and noticed that it took me almost 3 hours to finish it off.
It was quite amazing how much more sophisticated just the vocabulary was in the Canadian newspaper.
Then when the address the point briefly they flashback to the subject's childhood and talk about some formative event that shaped everything to put him into the place where he might take on this problem.
I skim because I trust very few sources to actually deliver on the promise of a headline and I don't care to invest a page or two reading before the article actually starts and I can make a judgement.
I think this gets to the core of it.
When we're bombarded headlines from hundreds, if not thousands, of articles in a day, how do you know which ones are worth investing your time in?
This is a question worth answering, because many many people are investing their time mostly in headlines, and skim reading. Which means they never get depth, which has obvious negative consequences.
This is not just a question that we should answer individually, but as a society. There is a real cost to disproportionate amounts of headline surfing and skim reading.
I have spent a good amount of time writing and editing professionally. The absolute worst writing happens when someone believes they are owed attention simply because they wrote something.
The gall! Maybe people would skim less if so many writers weren't cramming tomes down our throats to serve their own interests.
Even then, skimming is a fundamental reading skill and I simply cannot imagine how ignorant I would be if I never did it.
- - -
Two poplar trees stood in the backyard of the house where Steven was born in 1958. Not so much a "back yard" as a "back lawn", one of the trees, nearly 200 years old...
I think they're either chasing gamified time-on page metrics, or are just deeply conceited. Whenever that happens to me I consider myself pranked by the writer.
How do you know if this article is actually good and worth your time? You don't, and the last 20 articles you read are crap. In fact modern journalism is so bad, that once in a week I'll come across a real article, well-structured, providing good background, written by a knowledgeable individual that understands the subject, and oh my, the difference is incredible. I had forgotten journalism can be that good. You know, actually useful.
The way to fix is is to financially support good journalism. It's not easy (there isn't a good system built for this, how many subscriptions can you really pay for?) but it's definitely possible.
By author's name. The problem is, even on sites, where you can subscribe to not the whole site, but particular section, you usually cannot subscribe to particular author.
Then Twitter provides a way to do it. Find the author at Twitter, and subscribe - usually he or she will be announce there every publication he or she made - you can even trivially gate his or her tweets with links to RSS if you wish, using Twitter groups and IFTT.
By the way, if you want to support the author, using Tweeter you can do this too - likes and retweets are valuable and to promote good author among your subscribers is good for everyone.
The problem is authors don't tweet links on their own works only, more often than not they tweet links on many other things, and more often than not, you are not interested in the everything the author read or discuss, but only in his or her journalist works. Technically it's possible to filter this by parsing the pages from author tweet links, and find there his or her name.
Same seems to be with books. Most books I see are almost around the same thickness and size which might mean the publisher has some influence on the length of the texts.
Might not have been necessary but I felt like I needed to do it.
You only really grasp a point when you hear it many times, and see it applied (or even better apply it yourself).
There is this online service selling summarised versions of popular books. I’ve read many of those summaries, and undoubtedly the key points are all contained in there. But: you read it, and then you forget.
The complete book takes time to lay out the key points and arguments, puts them in context, explains various aspects, gives many examples, challenges you to apply them, and, yes, repeats them. And that’s what you need to actually take them on board. It’s a whole web of beliefs.
As an extreme example: you could give the basic definitions and axioms of, say, group theory on one page, and say “the rest follows”. No fluff. But somebody that’s only read that page has no idea about group theory. For that you need the book, with fluff.
Not getting to the point, or giving relevant context and precursor ideas, while dwelling on unrelated subjects = fluff.
I like my non-fiction the way I like science articles: starting with a summary, and diving into all necessary details later.
However using poetic language in writing that's trying to communicate scientific understanding to everyone, I find, is useful and appropriate. Look at Carl Sagan's popular writings, or some of Asimov's more science related works for good examples.
I often get how the applications go after reading the section titles, thus I think it can still be more concise. That said, the two books have much better signal-to-noise ratio than some high-brow journalistic pieces.
Quite the opposite. He expands one single argument ad nauseum into each of his books.
Fat tailed probability distributions are fat tailed...! Assuming normal distribution underestimates risky events.
> and Antifragile
Simple complex systems are too complex to be simple enough ...!
Okay, so this is a bit more technical, but the important thing is that unintelligent systems (= they are simple) that are complex (= have complex dynamics) are bad at adapting to different circumstances.
Also, these systems are products of design trade offs. (We want things to be cheap and get done fast, and also politically okay, and so on.) And thus they are not robust enough, nor resilient enough. They are fragile. (Taleb laments a lot about how antifragiltiy is different from robustness and resilience. And sure, they are because he uses a model in which they are.)
And the book talks about what is needed for anti-fragility, and it turns out that some kind of feedback loop that optimizes for certain problems. Or of course intelligence.
The barbell strategy is applied to a lot more domains throughout the book - a small excerpt: https://www.nuggetsofthought.com/2018/04/02/nassim-taleb-sen...
I couldn't have explained it better.
> Fooled by randomness.
Selection / survivorship bias
I also don’t like when they beat around the bush, but repetition increases retention.
Also, when reading nonfiction, I typically read the beginning and the end, and then skim the rest. If it seems worth the time, then I read the whole thing.
I saw this advice for reading papers, and it has been extremely useful to me for deciding if something is worth reading. For whatever reason though, I have some kind of aversion to doing it with books. Some form of childhood engrained "eat your vegetables" kind of conditioning about finishing books cover to cover.
I should really try it though. I've slogged through many non-fiction books with little beside annoyance to show for it.
I think if you want to avoid fluff, read something that was written more than 20 years ago. Time has a means of eroding away the pop-sci books (Will anyone read Gladwell in 20 years?). I personally like reading the pivotal pieces of a field / founding texts. Jung and Nietzsche come to mind.
Maybe another question you could ask (a fluff test if you will): Could you see a college course using the text as a primary source?
Historical philosophers are not even remotely comparable to present-day popular authors, a more fair comparison would be to present-day philosophers. Present-day popular authors are best compared to old popular authors, like the ones who wrote books on manners for 1800s Americans who wanted to use their affluence to become more like old-world elites, or the 1950s authors that wrote manuals on how to "be a man."
A lot of for-the-masses nonfiction books suffer from the incentives problem. They're not selling information, they're selling the feeling of being smart, intellectual, and well informed. They don't aim to teach you anything, they aim to give you ammunition to impress your friends with at a dinner party.
As such they have to be large and voluminous so you can feel good about yourself just by buying them. Then they have to convey the core point in the first 30 pages because you're not going to read more than that probably. The rest is there to give you cool anecdotes and supporting arguments so you can impress your friends further should they probe (and you actually read that far).
Do you have recommendations that might be different?
The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz
At this point I just read the weekly (print) issue and only go deeper on things that interest me. I am of course missing things, but it's been much less stressful and more informative than skimming the NYT every morning.
The Economist also has great round-the-world coverage, which is more than can be said for most news sources.
For political reporting it seems like Politico is sticking to the same formula (at least Politico.eu), which explains their popularity.
Life story with a hidden recipe injected somewhere on the body
Well, probably a toss up between that, and breaking out a recipe over a 10 page slideshow.
When I was a child, my father and I would go fishing in summer. In summer, the fish feed on all the insects that ...
54 pages of unrelated anecdotes later
Irrespective of whether or not you think texts are too long these days, what's clear is that both long and short texts are here to stay.
Fucking brilliant, mate. Five stars. Good show. And then people will link this nonsense everywhere. The question posed will not be answered, the writer will have performed some puerile creative writing exercise, and you'll be left wondering why you bother reading this stuff.
Do you remember serials?
Sometimes I'll just skim because, as you say, a lot of articles take forever to get to the point. Reading the first sentence of each paragraph seems to work well.
There are a lot of reason we skim, some good and some bad. The nature of articles, etc., on the Internet encourages skimming. It's like reading the newspaper used to be, except the newspaper is a million times larger and of much more uneven quality.
I read fewer books than I did 30 years ago before I was regularly online, but probably read as much, or more. Of course, a lot of what I read is fluff or crap (or both), which concerns me, but oftentimes comment sections can be informative and insightful.
I didn't find the evidence in the article compelling. But I'm glad it was there and don't think it was fluff.
Many (most? at the very least "more and more") consumers buy printed matter "by weight", they somewhat "score" by dividing the number of pages by the price.
It may be considered adequate for entertainment material, and may be adopted (for many/all types of goods) because it is our standard way of scoring goods. AFAIK there is no well-known generic method to a priori appreciate whether a good is adequate (adequacy being a part of "quality", which is always hard to evaluate).
It's quantity/quality, all over again. Only the former seems absolute to us, and a good scoring method delivers an absolute result.
IMHO there is a way to pepper a text with anecdotes/useless details, or even to structure it thanks to them, which gained traction in US newspaper material and now seems pervasive to me (thanks to our "global culture"?). It may sometimes be used as a trick to give life or credibility (fake news ahead! Liars tend to pile details up) to a story, or to appeal to some readers' empathy ("Wow, he uses a kettle pot similar to mine, so we are similar!").
A perfect thing "lacks nothing and nothing can be added" (Vitruvius). Aiming at perfection slows the building process, and most written material sold is short-lived ("long tail"). For a publishing company the editorial process (<=> refining contents by adding what is missing and also cutting fluff, in an often painful and always lengthy back-and-forth between the author and an editor) leads to more loss (an enraged author quits) and time-to-market (competing products are first on the market).
Paying the author according to the amount of written material he produces simplifies.
It's "good enough" and "on time", all over again.
A piece of text without repetition and rephrasing will only content the focused reader. Misread or misunderstand something and you are lost. Focused people are rare (and may even be more and more so), and even them often cannot read continuously in a proper (calm) environment for a long time. Therefore nearly all of us always skim. Most products are not completely devoid of contents, therefore upon skimming one will probably find some material interesting him, albeit skimming over dense material leads to a total failure.
Theoretically footnotes and the hypertext approach may alleviate part of this, but many readers just get lost in those links.
A philosopher friend of mine, for example, refuses to read novels because he claims the basic propositions of most fiction can be more concisely expressed. Why read a whole book to learn that love is hard? This is true: his loss.
"We need to cultivate a new kind of brain: a “bi-literate” reading brain capable of the deepest forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums. A great deal hangs on it: the ability of citizens in a vibrant democracy to try on other perspectives and discern truth; the capacity of our children and grandchildren to appreciate and create beauty; and the ability in ourselves to go beyond our present glut of information to reach the knowledge and wisdom necessary to sustain a good society."
> English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts.
Nothing new here, surely? I'd hazard a guess a huge majority of people, throughout eternity, will never read 19th and 20th century literature, myself included. Unless we come up with some way of uploading books directly to our conscious awareness or whatever.
Project Gutenberg was founded in 1971, and as of June 23rd 2018 contains over 57,000 books. If we ignore for a minute all of the online book stores where one can go to buy books, and how well some of those stores are doing, then Project Gutenberg alone has probably done more for reading than we may have lost due to swipe-and-skim reading. How many of us have bought and pirated more eBooks than we've read paper books.
I work with tradesmen. I've asked so many of them "read any good books lately?" and they typically reply with something like "books? fuck off, I'm not gay". Seriously. But even the majority of these people, especially those under about 35 years old, are, in their spare time, reading constantly. Okay, so they're skim reading non-sense on Pinstabookwittertube, or whatever the kids are into this five-minute-period. I can't keep up, must be getting old, get off my lawn, etc. etc. I'd say that's still a huge improvement over the nothing similar cohorts were reading a decade a go. I'm still convinced some of the older guys can barely read well enough to get through their every day lives.
And, generally speaking, I'm skeptical of most 'The Sky Is Falling: Younger People Are Worse at X (And Y and Z and A and B ...' positions, for all the obvious reasons.
“Young people are so pampered nowadays that they have forgotten that there was such a thing as Rhetoric"
Aristotle, 4th Century BC
OTOH, what I do absolutely struggle with is watching video content. I think it's largely to do with the fact that I consume most of my video content on my laptop, so the lure of another browser tab (with, say, Hacker News or Reddit) is always there. I'll start watching a ~30 minute episode of "The IT Crowd" and it'll take me 90 minutes to watch it because I'm obsessively hitting "pause" every couple of minutes to check my email, check HN, etc. :-(
Sorry to write such a long article, I didn't have time to write a short one. - Cicero, Pascal, Twain, etc.
Personally, I can't skim read - I've never been able to. I've always have to read word by word which can really affect my reading speed. This I've learnt over the years has had both positive and negatives as you might imagine.
In school it was a big negative, if something didn't hold my interest - bugger it - I wasn't going to waste my time and would get in trouble, but if it was interesting to me I'd spend the time and generally understand the content very well. In later life I've found myself to rely on article summaries to decide if I need to read the full source or not.
Reading a novel takes me a lot longer (say 2-4 weeks) than say my Grandfather who in his 90s smashes out 4-5 novels a week with great ease and while still leading a busy life, however he was saying to me that whenever he skim reads he knows he doesn't taken in as much information from the text and for him it's more about enjoyment of reading 'in the moment' rather than post-reading pondering of the book which I tend to do a lot more of.
Personally I find reading books on an e-ink screen a _lot_ quicker than an LCD screen like my iPad Pro and a still a little quicker than reading a physical book probably down to page turns and object weight.
Don't let them guilt you into it.
If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.
― Oscar Wilde
A barometer of this in the UK is Radio 4 - the BBC's 'speech only' service. Nowadays there are plenty of listeners but they are stuck in their cars on some silly commute and needing to pass the time as they shuffle through fumes, therefore this new audience is only getting the government's version of 'news', not the full Radio 4 experience.
This audience doesn't tend to tune in to Radio 4 at other times to listen to stories, documentaries, 'Woman's Hour' and the other delights of Radio 4, when back at the ranch there is TV and the world of digital delights for ambient entertainment.
You can do stuff whilst listening to Radio 4 style speech radio (not to be confused with 'talk radio'), however I don't think many people do that these days or have the skills to patiently do so. I wonder how low the critical mass of listeners has to get before 'Radio 4' loses relevance and is no longer something that can be discussed in 'the shires'.
We have access to infinite amount of "snippet" information. We want an "answer", now, and not the reason of how and why we arrived at those answer in the first place. Lots of people searching for just an "answers" and not thinking, and we end up in a world where we have far easier access of information than any other period in human history and our time to think and learn has been taken up by social media and other easy access entertainment.
Another problem of long reading is the quality of writing has degraded over the years. Or may be we have far too many information so the average or median quality are lowered.
The last great pieces of long Tech article i enjoyed were written by Anand lal shimpi, founder of Anandtech, but he left the site and went to work for Apple.
I think we take for granted the ability to skim an article in our native language. When we skim, our brain is probably taking advantage of so many fast "pattern recognizers" and models to make sense of the whole, sampled in parts.
Perhaps skimming effectively like "being able to go to a comedy show in that language and actually laugh" is a true test of language proficiency.
My Spanish teacher who is pretty competent with English agrees that skimming is something that she cannot just do either.
A lot might also be about writing style: English has developed a very anecdote/story- heavy style. Try to find an article by an author with English as mother tongue - they breast universally use this approach. E.g. article about tax law starts with one story, article about politics goes in depth on some specific scene or encounter, etc etc. There is often much mention of 'unimportant' detail that fill the mental picture, and English language media often repeat and stretch out information (rather than strive for information density). In comparison of DE-EN-FR I even find this in more in-depth documents like textbooks, not universally but much more than in the other languages.
Of course fluency plays a major role. But i can skim a french-language fluff piece or story or recounting of an event, even if that's not exactly a strong language for me. At the same time I can't skim an in-depth description of this or that political conflict or technical report in EN or DE if I want to understand the course of events or details. So it's at least to some degree (at least for me) a matter of the writing style - stories read easily, and non- English media is much less story-heavy. For an English native you might be able to compare yourself skimming an Economist article or something academic vs e.g. guardian or independent and see if it feels different.
In a twist, I find it sometimes harder to read a FR language fluff piece closely/carefully - they tend to use words that are more slang/informal and which i won't know as well how to interpret them in the context. But getting the gist of easy. This might be particular to foreign language reading though.
Jakob Nielsen was making this observation ages ago with regard to Web pages.
I think it's a bit of a mistake to lump reading books on a Kindle in with checking e-mails on an iPad (at least assuming we mean the e-ink version); the former is much less task-oriented than the latter and I find I'm actually reading many more long and challenging books on the Kindle than I used to. Though of course I can't really explain why the students in the study mentioned had so much worse results.
If an article doesn't immediately support the article's headline then people are going to skim until they find information supporting or refuting the headline.
- Reading ability required development of new brain circuits about 6000 years ago
- This circuit adapts to new environment and mediums, currently digital media
- Fast and multi-tasked reading has advantage for large volume information but comes at cost of ability for "deep reading"
- College students now actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because of "cognitive impatience"
- Anne Mangen did experiment to have 50% student read a story on kindle and 50% on print material. Later group showed superior comprehension, re-construction and retention
- Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text
- Physicality of print material enables association with space and time allowing readers for re-examination aka “technology of recurrence”
- Negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade impacting comprehension and empathy
Blaise Pascal (and more people after him):
"I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter."
Television has had a larval form of this pattern for decades, but with television there were at least times when the spell was broken because "nothing's on". Nobody could analyze all your habits and interests on an individual level and create your perfect "channel" that's on the air all day, every day. That's what we're moving toward now, and it's becoming more apparent with time that even being a few steps down that road doesn't seem entirely healthy. I don't have a fistful of neuroscience studies to cite, let alone a solution, but I have a bad feeling that this is going to get worse before it gets better.
The "technology of recurrence" is interesting. I do use e-ink and I'm considerably less likely to go back a few pages to check something out than if I was reading a paper book.
There are so many articles/topics repeating themselfs. It starts to happen @hacker news for me as well and that makes it boring.
I don't need to read the 20.000th article about a specific topic in full. I only might wanna see if the author got something new, which is often just not the case.
I didn't read that much text when we only used newspapers. I read the paper after lunch for half an hour or so. Thats it. No newspaper on sunday.
The way out of the problems caused by skimming is to skim more.
I skimmed the whole Atlantic piece to digest the point, then decided it wasn't worth a deeper examination. My own experience with the concept is probably way way better than the author's. And the stated thesis of the article just isn't important to me.
Writing a lot helps with reading. Spending lots and lots of time putting together arguments and points sets yourself up to recognize common patterns extremely quickly in recently-written prose. When dealing with older prose, or poetry, especially something like the Bible, my mind slows way way way way down to an almost glacial pace, the subconscious just isn't primed to understand the writing as the culture in which it was written is long long gone.
I dislike a wafflely story that is of no interest at the beginning and I can't be bothered to read it. For example I could prefix this comment when "Back when I was a boy I stacked straw on the farm, ...", and that would be similar.
no, if you are intelligent then you value context, details, nuance and looking at the same point from varied angles. If you're intelligent you try to become deeply knowledgeable about one topic that you are passionate about rather than trying to memorize bullet points, which gets you nowhere. The unique feat of human intellect is deep excellence in individual domains, not being able to quickly absorb bullet points. Deeply intelligent individuals dive into topics to such a degree of detail that it would even bore the average 'deep reader' to death.
The answer to information overflow is not to trade detail for bullet points. Key is to be able to discern what is relevant to you and what is not, and to focus deeply on the things that are. The fact that people tend towards skimming is a sign that they are not able to do this.
The best of both worlds.
You're correct, if I truly care for a topic, I will read the fluff. The vast majority of internet articles don't fall into this category.
I disagree, the fact that they skim means they ARE able to do this.
On the other hand, I skimmed books back in the 90's, before I surfed the web daily. (There was much less "new" high quality information online then.)
I would check out 5 books at a time from the library, and read the best one, and skim the rest.
I also studied for my AP History test in exactly one day by skimming, and got a great score. IIRC, I read the first and last sentence of every chapter in a 200 page book in one night. It's not a bad way to read if you're looking for the high level structure of stories and arguments.
Many authors are in love with their own prose, and it is too long.
My blog looks dense but I've gotten good feedback on it, mostly because I use skimmable headings, and delete words from sentences, so it's short and dense:
A few new media publishers understand that they need to retool content for the new generation of readers (think TMZ and early TechCrunch) but they are still the minority in the English-speaking world.
Yes, it's sad that long-form reading and comprehension levels are in decline. But this is the evolution of media and communication at work, and people who publish need to adapt to new ways of communicating. Humanity has had shifts like this before (orality to the written word, hand-copied text to the printing press, the impact of broadcasting, etc.) and we'll still survive.
If I have to be ready for deep reading before I read anything, then I'll never read anything.
The need to skim is more a comment on how quickly many things can now be accomplished. People are trained to think that anything should be quick these days.
Unfortunately, it takes time to condense good material into bite-size chunks. It’s not hard to see, in a zero-time-to-publish society, how the “easy” and poorly-written bites win out over anything better. A person can spew out 100 dumb tweets in less time than it takes to compose one well-researched concept in a sufficiently short space to be consumed.
For example, I didn't read this article because "the effect on society is profound" implies that the author doesn't have a strong conslusion, meaning that it's uninteresting (a) and probably not concise (b).
Alternatively, if the writer has a strong voice or unique style, I'll read the article just to appreciate that.
If text would be hierarchical, with top level items being summaries, and each successive (indented) level going into more detail, I could tailor the reading of the text to my needs, interest level, and prior knowledge of the subject.
Why do we not write like this?
adam dot sah at gm
I tend to read only what I need to move forward either in thought or on a project.
I learn faster this way. And I can do this now because of the power of search.
Some of the papers I read recently, like the "Instant field meshes" one, also exhibit this careful balance of concept density without going to the point where you need Kant-level mentality to comprehend the conveyed concept (referring specifically to Kritik der reinen Vernunft).
I think most non-tech people that I met still reading normally.
I read works of art normally, without skimming.
Even with this, shitty production -- say, couple of jokers' completely unedited stream-of-blather 2 hour vlog that only got remotely near the point by 20 min in, but failed to hold together through the 30m maark, where I bailed (skipping through, aggressively) -- is intolerable.
Mind: there is very well-produced material. Lectures, audiobooks, documentaries, etc. But like any large complex work, it takes skill, preparation, a goal in mind, and time.
Mind: typical news or opinion pieces rarely reach this level.
"screen reading is the problem" says the internet article.
Somehow I have to read every word on its own.
My wife occasionally reasds BBC news stories to me and it's remarkable how much 'blah blah hang on a moment til I find the story' even those contain.