Reading Habits -- Skimming the New Normal?

Victoria Silverwolf

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#2
Fascinating article.

Two ironies:

1. The distracting video advertisement that interrupts the text.

2. The fact that it was very difficult for me not to skim the text, just because I was reading it on the computer. I don't think I would have done the same thing if I had a printed article.

Two second-hand personal anecdotes:

1. My better half reports a student in a literature class who, after given an assignment to analyze a text of choice, asked "Can I do a movie?"

2. From the same source, I found out that it was not uncommon for English majors (!) in a class dealing with novels to admit to each other that they had not read the book.

I briefly looked at a Kindle once. It seemed like a terrible way to read. Once in a while I have read something via Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive when a printed book was not at hand. (The main example was my reading of the very strange, deeply flawed, yet endlessly fascinating two-volume Lewis Carroll novel Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded.) In addition to that, I am sometimes assigned to read on-line magazines for my reviews for Tangent, and to look at on-line copies of half-century old magazines for my reviews for Galactic Journey. Those experiences aren't too bad, because I use a full-sized computer screen, so it's almost like looking at the real thing. Not quite, however; I still prefer physical books and magazines.

I wonder if this is really the dawn of a new era. Am I like the bard who has memorized enormous amounts of oral literature, disdaining the way that writing has made things too easy? I don't know. I get the feeling that the political arena, if nothing else, has been made much worse due to the electronic age. It bothers me that a list of events happening at the Chattanooga public library, for example, has nothing at all to do with reading. The place now has a recording studio and a coffee house. Their slogan is now "Nothing quiet about it!" As one who loved the cathedral-like tranquility of libraries, that disturbs me.

A few random thoughts:

Who is reading all those gigantic series of thousand-page popular fiction? Are they skimming them?

A serendipitous advantage for me: Used books (reading copies, not collectibles) are cheaper; when I can find a used book store that hasn't shut it doors.

The very fact that I am here proves that, Luddite though I might be -- I now own a simple portable phone, for emergency use only, which I hate -- I do not disdain all use of the computer. I post on forums, publish my reviews, purchase things on-line that I can't find elsewhere, play chess badly, watch old movies, and so on. I cannot, however, understand the appeal of tweeting or posting photographs of what I ate for lunch.
 
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#3
Though there is a wealth of information (both good and bad) that does not take a gazillionth of the amount of effort it used to take to research something, available online, and entertainment in the form of text and images, it has resulted in exactly the opposite of what it should have.

Instead of folks appreciating the ease to learn or be entertained without much effort, which you would think would mean a much better educated/informed populace, they have instead thrown their hands up and screamed "too much!" Coincidentally, as implied often in dystopian or futuristic works of fiction.

Personally, I don't believe we're even seeing a proportional representation of pre-internet days. As people learned they could get the information/entertainment they wanted easier, instead of taking advantage of that, I believe many, perhaps even most people, instead seemed to decide to want less... They want more 'topics,' but, they want everything in brief. Why I bet you could simply give many folks just a headline and 2-3 sentence blurb, and they'd be good with that.

In other words, they want more diversity, want more of everything, yet less of each thing.

In the low circles I run in, if I present a novel, heck, it could be a masterpiece, nobody wants to read it simply due to a quick scroll of how much text there is. Shorten it down to a novella and I'll get a few, a novelette or short story, more readers and again. Crop it down to a page, 2-3 paragraphs... and it gets read by everyone, and they rave on it.

Oddly asking for more... just so long as it is fed to them in similar sized bits. The moment you increase the number of words, say 4,000 words vs. 500, the number of readers who will NOT come back increases considerably.

I'll stop there before I begin ranting... and before this gets so long everyone stops reading it ;)

K2
 

WaylanderToo

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#4
I wonder if this is one of the reasons (apart from more money and/or poor editing) why we see so many volumes of space opera (volume X, XI... MDLX!)

@K2 weirdly (as I've mentioned before) I'm much the opposite - in the main, I really can't be doing short stories/novellas. I want something I can really get my teeth into so the longer the better.
 

The Big Peat

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#7
Well, that's not at all scary.

How do you develop this bi-literate brain? I mean, logically, as an internet and reading addict that grew up both, if anyone has its me and people like me, but I can't say I've noticed...
 

Vertigo

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#8
I think it's interesting but I'm not convinced it's inevitable upon reading from a digital source. I read ebooks in exactly the same way I read printed books; I effectively read them 'aloud' in my head. That's how I've always read and how I will always want to read. And it's also probably why I'm so critical of editing errors. Skim readers will likely not notice them as they are so often in 'invisible' words. I, on the other hand, stumble over them every time. It's also possibly why I hate books with impossible, or at least difficult, names to pronounce because I do pronounce them in my head.

It also limits the speed I can read at; it's rare that I'll read more than 100 pages in around 4 hours (my typical evening's reading time). I have always been suspicious of anyone who says they can read a whole book in that amount time and take in all the nuances, emotions, descriptions, scenery etc. of the book, and I've met plenty who claim they can. I don't want to get into an argument over that point but I really do wonder if anyone can read at those speeds without skimming.

However I don't think this is a new phenomenon I think it's been around ever since the idea of speed reading became popular in... was it the seventies? Nowadays the nature of information on places like Facebook, Twitter and online news, even forums like this one, positively encourage skim reading and maybe that's more accurately the reason younger folk are getting into the habit of reading in that way.
 

tinkerdan

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#9
Skimming while reading is ancient. I look at it as an answer to speed reading for those who couldn't master the art of speed reading.

In fact way back in the late 60's early 70's I recall going through the process of identifying both methods.

My personal experience with digital is that I skim less than I used to. However, I'm older and perhaps I'm more patient in my reading.

I still find myself skimming occasionally and what that looks like is when I reach the bottom of a page and suddenly realize that I'm less aware of what I just read--I have to go back and reread-- and this happens less often now than it used to.

I find it more valuable to go back and find the spot where I started this because there is usually a scratch in the record that pushed me out of the groove and caused me to skip across the track until I landed planted in a groove at the end of the page. For me skimming happens when the writer loses me. Or vice versa--depending on a person's outlook.

Deliberate skimming is only valuable on such things as technical manuals--as in when the equipment first arrives and you want to scan through and get a rough idea where help may be when you start having questions about what the equipment really can do.

Skimming fiction is just a persons way of saying--I didn't really want to buy this book because I don't have time to read it.

One thought that did come to me though is; perhaps these terrible books with all the 5 star reviews that make no sense are just examples of what happens when people skim fiction.

On another note: I recently experience a phenomenon related to speed reading that I'd rather see them spend time researching. When I speed read, I occasionally have to reread a sentence that makes no sense and often it continues to make no sense until I put a highlight dot somewhere on the sentence to slow me down; at that point I can determine one of two things. I read it correctly and it doesn't make sense or I kept inserting the wrong word in the same place until I established a focus that managed to interrupt whatever evil was going on in my head.

I have to wonder what other words I've changed mentally in my reading and just what pattern there might be and how a writer might avoid using words that might be misinterpreted by the readers mind.
 

Guillermo Stitch

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#12
I think it's interesting but I'm not convinced it's inevitable upon reading from a digital source. I read ebooks in exactly the same way I read printed books; I effectively read them 'aloud' in my head. That's how I've always read and how I will always want to read. And it's also probably why I'm so critical of editing errors. Skim readers will likely not notice them as they are so often in 'invisible' words. I, on the other hand, stumble over them every time. It's also possibly why I hate books with impossible, or at least difficult, names to pronounce because I do pronounce them in my head.

It also limits the speed I can read at; it's rare that I'll read more than 100 pages in around 4 hours (my typical evening's reading time). I have always been suspicious of anyone who says they can read a whole book in that amount time and take in all the nuances, emotions, descriptions, scenery etc. of the book, and I've met plenty who claim they can. I don't want to get into an argument over that point but I really do wonder if anyone can read at those speeds without skimming.

However I don't think this is a new phenomenon I think it's been around ever since the idea of speed reading became popular in... was it the seventies? Nowadays the nature of information on places like Facebook, Twitter and online news, even forums like this one, positively encourage skim reading and maybe that's more accurately the reason younger folk are getting into the habit of reading in that way.

At first glance anyway, and before I've read the book, I think I agree with this. I was surprised to see ebooks included as one of the digital sources which may be having these effects. To my mind, it's much more about social media sites, from Facebook to Youtube, providing environments which actively encourage distraction. After all, the more distraction, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more opportunity for someone, somewhere, to make money.

But with ebooks I don't experience any more distraction than I do with print. It's a straighforward, linear experience for me.
 

Vertigo

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#13
At first glance anyway, and before I've read the book, I think I agree with this. I was surprised to see ebooks included as one of the digital sources which may be having these effects. To my mind, it's much more about social media sites, from Facebook to Youtube, providing environments which actively encourage distraction. After all, the more distraction, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more opportunity for someone, somewhere, to make money.

But with ebooks I don't experience any more distraction than I do with print. It's a straighforward, linear experience for me.
Yup I agree completely and I too was surprised. I wonder if it isn't just the case that, due to social media habits, people (and I'd say here mostly younger people) have got in the habit of skimming anything on a digital screen and so continue that habit with an ereader as it is a digital screen. Maybe with paper being a less common medium for them they are inclined to, possibly unconsciously, treat it with more respect. Not sure if that's quite the right word; maybe treat it more seriously is more correct.
 

psikeyhackr

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#14
I confess to being suspicious of these analyses but admit that digital life has amplified an existing problem.

How do we separate the wheat from the chaff? Theodore Sturgeon said that 90% of everything is crud, but digital life has amplified the info flow by at least 1000% and it seems like 99.9% of it is crud.

But everyone has their own definition of crud. For me Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is crud but I do not doubt that there are plenty of SF fans eager to lynch me for that. That is part of why I wrote my SF/Fantasy Density program.

How is a 5 year old supposed to figure our what is and is not CRUD?

A neuroscientist explains what tech does to the reading brain
A neuroscientist explains what tech does to the reading brain

To me reading a book in the Kindle app is different from skimming articles.
 
Last edited:

The Big Peat

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#15
Yup I agree completely and I too was surprised. I wonder if it isn't just the case that, due to social media habits, people (and I'd say here mostly younger people) have got in the habit of skimming anything on a digital screen and so continue that habit with an ereader as it is a digital screen. Maybe with paper being a less common medium for them they are inclined to, possibly unconsciously, treat it with more respect. Not sure if that's quite the right word; maybe treat it more seriously is more correct.
Kindle pages are tiny and give the illusion of being able to take in everything at once. I'd love to see a study on how long readers spent on each kindle page depending on their age.
 

The Big Peat

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#17
No more tiny than a typical paperback. Well maybe a little smaller, but not significantly smaller.
Maybe I've got an unusually small kindle but I'd say the difference is significant to me at least.

edit: We're talking more four or so lines, and a bit less width here.
 

Guillermo Stitch

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#20
At first glance anyway, and before I've read the book, I think I agree with this. I was surprised to see ebooks included as one of the digital sources which may be having these effects. To my mind, it's much more about social media sites, from Facebook to Youtube, providing environments which actively encourage distraction. After all, the more distraction, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more opportunity for someone, somewhere, to make money.

But with ebooks don't ecperience any more distraction than I do with print. It's a straighforward, linear experience for me.
Kindle pages are tiny and give the illusion of being able to take in everything at once. I'd love to see a study on how long readers spent on each kindle page depending on their age.
But you can set the font size, which I do, and come reasonably close to a printed page.
 

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