Sunday, 6 July 2014

Read me?

'Reading the paper' by State
Library of Victoria Collections

under a CC license
This time, I'll stay clear of food science and, for a change, I'll start with the bottom line:

We live busy lives, we do a lot of necessary or not-so-necessary things, most of which compete for our attention. That is why reading has become so difficult. That is why reading (long articles) online doesn't really stand a chance!

Here, I got it out of me. So now I can start again, the normal way this time. But I promise to keep it short. I have to.

I met a friend the other day and, at some point during our conversation, just after starting the 2nd pint, if I recall correctly, I vaguely mentioned something about this blog. The response I got was shockingly honest: "Yes, I know you blog but I haven't read any of your posts." That was the point I started thinking "Hey, you are supposed to encourage me or, at least, discourage me in a gentle way and you have just done neither". Instead of speaking my thought, I took another sip of my beer and said nothing.

The truth is that we get easily distracted. It is not a new thing. After all, distraction is nothing more than an attention shift from what we currently do onto something else. In our cave times, lying on the grass and getting distracted by the sound of animals fleeing at the sight of a hungry tiger could have been a life saver. This is certainly different to reading an article online and getting distracted by a twitter notification but the underlying mechanism remains the same.

There have been studies on that, both academic and informal, such as that on Slate. There are indications that the way we read and interpret, itself, is changing. Some of the observations, such as word/ page scanning, apply to both online and printed media. Regardless, they all seem to converge to the conclusion that keeping our attention on long online articles is tough. Some studies move onto providing advice for content developers (well, in this case, that is me). In brief, the things to do are:
  • Put important things on top
  • Use emphasis in a way that facilitates page scanning
  • Keep it short and simple, avoiding unnecessary web design bells and whistles
  • Use photos/ videos/ media contextually related to the text

I promise I'll try to stick to those rules. Although I'm not sure if all of those can be followed every single time. I may give it a try on a post on acrylamide in food.

And for those of you loyal enough to stay undistracted till the end, a great presentation from Apollo Robbins, pickpocket, magician, security consultant, etc. If you want subtitles (in many languages) visit TED.

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