George Saunders writes about the distractions and disturbances of technology:

I’m not easily distracted, as a rule. Especially where writing is concerned. But I have noticed, over the last few years, the very real (what feels like) neurological effect of the computer and the iPhone and texting and so on – it feels like I’ve re-programmed myself to become discontent with whatever I’m doing faster…It’s a little scary, actually, to observe oneself getting more and more skittish, attention-wise.

I do know that I started noticing a change in my own reading habits – I’d get online and look up and 40 minutes would have gone by, and my reading time for the night would have been pissed away, and all I would have learned was that, you know, a certain celebrity had lived in her car awhile, or that a cat had dialed 911.

I realized the other night – as I have been suspicious for months – that I’ve been having an extremely hard time settling down and reading anything in print. Most of my day is spent on screen not only with emails, but also retrieving news, opinions, reviews and interviews and, I admit, videos of cats riding Roombas around the living room.

See? I just made you do it…

Now with smartphones and tablets at my fingertips, the distractions are even worse. Can’t even do the NY Times crossword puzzle without having the iPad by my side. The Brunette claims it’s cheating – I just say I’m doing research. Which starts out honestly – but usually ends up with cat videos again.

I definitely feel as if  I’ve been reprogrammed to read in small bites – no pun intended – which was the original rule to design for the web.

In Jakob Nielsen’s update of Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design, the web design guru suggests: 

Write for online, not print. To draw users into the text and support scannability, use well-documented tricks:

•  subheads
•  bulleted lists
•  highlighted keywords
•  short paragraphs
•  the inverted pyramid (conclusions first)
•  a simple writing style, and
•  de-fluffed language devoid of marketese.

What Nielsen is doing is working within the constraints of the medium – understanding how the eye and brain interacts with the screen and taking advantage of it. In one sense, he’s advising designers to work within those constraints. The flip side of that is as this medium takes ever greater presence and time in our lives, we’re being trained in how to respond to it. We begin to naturally adapt to short bursts of information within highly compressed time frames. We read and process now for “chunks” of data.

Get in, get out.

Generally, a book is read sequentially, line by line, progressing from one idea to the next. The lengthy “build” is dependent on what came before it. But reading online is the complete antithesis to the book. You’re building with bright colorful Lego blocks, not weaving a subtle fabric.

Although there is a gap in reading style between generations born into print and the generations born into the screen, books still seem to find their way into the hands of all generations.There’s some solace to be taken in that I suppose.

Other than than that, we’re doomed.

It’s Friday – what are you reading this weekend?


JK : )


image via Graphic Mania