July 1, 2008

Not so fast: 'stoopid' web readers?

Somewhere a group of cognitive scientists and researchers are quietly patting their backs after presenting evidence that the Internet is changing the way we read and, in turn, on a genetic "gushy brain connectors" level. If change is the enemy of typical, and this is not about the Obama Presidential campaign (it was not), then this headline lured me in immediately:

"Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

However, as much as I wanted to click on the link to read the article, I did not. At the time I wasn't in the mood to endure someone -- anyone -- droll on about how the Internet was actually killing us on a genetic level and how we'd all better watch out.

The second time I saw this headline, it was in the middle of a magazine rack at my local Barnes & Noble. There was one noticeable difference that really made me stop. First of all the article was written in the Atlantic, I hadn't stopped to filter that on my previous encounter. In terms of attention span, the magazine's flag paled in comparison to the article's headline, which was designed as graphic art similar to the familiar Google logo and featured a misspelled word (Stoopid).

Witty? Yes...but I would have never gotten this effect at all had I veered down another isle, leaving the Web version to rot in my mind as yet another sensational claim for the sake of making one. The reason the Atlantic probably chose not to follow through with the misspelling and/or graphic could have been because it wouldn't search well. Someone was likely practicing SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

The headline, important in the viewing world to catch the attention by way of vision -- Via Internet, completely unconcerned with visuals. They also went through and provided links to any blog or Web content that was mentioned in the story. (It was done sparingly). The article was quite long so anyone intending to read it probably didn't feel compelled to navigate away for any reason.

With the understanding that I enjoyed the article in its entirety, there was one part I took issue with.
"When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration."
Perhaps this is the case, but the author presumes that this process is not good, and that somehow we cannot possibly glean the richness of the information if it isn't sitting right in front of our faces -- distraction free. He cites the sporadic nature of Internet readers to scan articles and then move on to another page. He mentions that articles are shorter, and less extensive... Well, this may be the case but those short articles are the meat of the story if done correctly. If the headline was created for use on the Internet, then so should the entire entry. Adding links to possibly unfamiliar jargon, pictures, breaking up text with subheads, adding the "strong" and "em" tags to catch scanning eyeballs - making them anchor to the screen for just a moment longer...etc. etc. etc.

This takes time. If the article is *ahem* optimized, then I don't see how they can imply that reading on the net is less informative.


1 comment:

Grammar Nazi said...

That article is an interesting read, but I'll argue that the vast majority of the American electorate has been "stoopid" for decades.