Quick Bits: Thoughts on How We Read Online

I’ve been reading Nicholas Carr‘s book, the Shallows again lately. In it, he takes particular care in laying out study upon study and argument upon argument to promote the idea that the Internet is a very noisy place to attempt reading or learning.

Hypermedia, text, and other online distractions

Distractions from hypertext, ads, videos, and other tabs or windows make for an experience with a cacophony of signal and response distractions.

How We Read Online

Part of this discovery of reading has confirmed for me details around things I feel I’ve already known. It’s fascinating though to learn of some of the details and to see the situation from Carr’s viewpoint. Here’s a few passages from the chapter, The Jugler’s Brain.

Jakob Nielsen
Image via Wikipedia

In 1879, A French ophthalmologist named Louis Emile Javal discovered that when people read, their eyes don’t sweep across the words in a perfectly fluid way. Their visual focus advances in little jumps, called saccades, pausing briefly at different points along each line.

In 2006, Jakob Nielsen, a longtime consultant on the design of Web pages who has been studying online reading since the 1990s, conducted an eye-tracking study of Web users. He had 232 people wear a small camera that tracked their eye movements as they read pages of text and browsed other content. Nielsen found that hardly any of the participants read online text in a methodical, line-by-line way, as they’d typically read a page of text in a book. The vast majority skimmed the text quickly, their eyes skipped down the page in a pattern that resembled, roughly, the letter F.

“F,” wrote Nielsen, in summing up the findings for his clients, is “for fast.”

.. Nielsen told his clients, “when you add verbiage to a page, you can assume that customers will read 18% of it.” And that, he cautioned, is almost certainly an overstatement. It’s unlikely that people in the study were spending alll their time reading: they were also probably glancing at pictures, videos, advertisements, and other types of content.

Borders Bookstore Closes and the Internet Keeps Chipping Away at our Brains

I, like many of you, this week received email notifying me the Borders Bookstore would be closing. And, like many of you, I already knew that the bookstore was set to close it’s remaining 400 or so stores. What I didn’t know was that they would be offering me, and you, a new location to store and view our ebooks.

Last year (really not that long ago) Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains generated a lot of media buzz. Folks from all over the media landscape were talking about Carr’s book and the suggested implications. I bought the book via Borders eBook site. If you’re vaguely or even not familiar with the book, Carr’s premise focuses squarely on what the internet is doing to our brains. The germ of his book started as a piece for the Atlantic entitled, Is Google Making Us Stupid?

The Shallows question and answer session – what is the Internet doing to our brains? – is a puzzle that Carr sets out to unveil with a review of the media business at large. His review, however, quickly launches backward into history with – who else but – Marshal McLuhan.


The Medium is the Message

Early pages of the book help position the debate for Carr. Using McLuhan, Carr points out…

“McLuhan understood that whenever a new medium comes along, people naturally get caught u in the information-the “content”- it carries. They care about the news in the news in the newspaper, the music on the radio, the shows on the TV, the words spoken by the person on the far end of the phone line.”

In The Shallows Carr covers the advent of the printing press, and how mass-production of reading materials meant more people could read. He talks functionality of the brain, and presents studies that document the elasticity of the brain. He also uncovers developments in reading styles from early days when textwasallpushedtogether (bet you didn’t know about that? – I sure didn’t). In large, he writes about new methods to create, disseminate, and to consume information.

… Which brings me to this the second thing – the alternative we’ve been given.

When Border’s sent me (and you) that email they did something upstanding. They recognized that they had a contract with us (it’s eBook purchasing public) for which they could (a) abandon like empty storefronts scattered throughout the country; or, they could (b) do their best to provide us with a seamless transition that would allow us to continue to enjoy our purchases.

I’m happy to say, they went with option B.

In parting, they offer what appears to be a very nice platform for reading (and sharing) books online, Kobo. I have tried the site out and have even run through the catalog of free books. Though different, something about Kobo reminds me of audible.com.

Now, I’m only so comfortable reading books online, but I’m certainly going to give Kobo a shot. Much like Google’s book project, Kobo appears to have interest in helping us make the transition to read more online.

.. if you didn’t see it Border’s is having a Going Out of Business SALE!

Borders Books at 1807 Fordham Boulevard in Cha...
Image via Wikipedia

They messed up. Borders and Barnes and Noble’s were each at a turning point. Barnes and Noble’s decided to take the hard road. They created their own online book ordering system, along with the shipping and other headaches that can be a part of – not just a new initiative, but – an e-commerce business of their size.

Borders, on the other hand, decided to outsource their e-commerce, choosing fulfillment partners in Amazon (a potentially dangerous competitor?!). Hindsight now.

So Border’s is closing it’s remaining 400+ stores, including the one in my town of York, PA. I think that sucks, course I can only pay attention long enough to .. get another latte.

What are your thoughts ’bout any of this?