When Jakob Nielsen, a Web researcher, tested 232 people for how they read pages on screens, a curious disposition emerged. (…) It looks like a capital letter F. At the top, users read all the way across, but as they proceed their descent quickens and horizontal sight contracts, with a slowdown around the middle of the page. Near the bottom, eyes move almost vertically, the lower-right corner of the page largely ignored. It happens quickly, too. “F for fast,” Nielsen wrote in a column. “That’s how users read your precious content.”
We’ve suspected it for some time now. Scientific study only confirms the truth that every blogger has known for some time. Web content does not sell the same way as printed content does. Net “readers” (the term itself is ill-fitting since they browse or scan) do not have time for bulk prose. “Online literacy” turns out to be an oxymoron and this article also shows that US schools are reporting no literacy progress thanks to the introduction of IT. People scan, they don’t read, they look for kernels of information and form their own ideas of what they read. The ripple effect in education is as ginormous as a Tsunami and a Hurricane rolled into one. New technologies are challenging certain standards of education and cultural paradigms. The text message threatens the foundations of spelling, the net page shakes the very basis of what reading is about.
What we are seeing is a strange flattening of the act of reading. It equates handheld screens with Madame Bovary, as if they made the same cognitive demands and inculcated the same habits of attention. It casts peeking at a text message and plowing through Middlemarch as subsets of one general activity. And it treats those quick bursts of words and icons as fully sufficient to sustain the reading culture. The long book may go, Price concluded, but reading will carry on just as it did before: “The file, the list, the label, the memo: These are the genres that will keep reading alive.”
It’s all worth registering. That, and the dilution of reliable research as represented by the Wikipedia Question: is it safe? Just as Tim Berners Lee starts a workgroup that analyses the usefulness of his baby (the internet) this introspective study by the net for the net might produce some interesting conclusions.
Meanwhile a Stephen Fry question to ponder upon… why do English speakers pronounce WWW as Double-you, double-you, double-you (9 syllables) instead of saying World Wide Web (three syllables) when dictating a web address? Even those sly Italians call it voo-voo-voo and get by without saying the word “doppia” three times.
In any case… what’s the rush… read, don’t run!