Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Skimming Strategy

Fantastic article by Nicholas Carr in Atlantic Monthly - Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains.
I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
I know what he's talking about. In the past, I've discussed this as Stop Reading - Skim Dive Skim. He cites a recent study by University College London that looked at behavior of visitors to two research sites. Carr states:
They found that people using the sites 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. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it.
The authors of the study report:
It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.
While Carr expresses concern about the impact that this has, I'm not quite so sure. Yes, we need opportunities to reflect, but for me that's blogging. I'm reflecting on his article as I write. But, indeed, I skimmed through passages.

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