Helping Creative People Create

Skimming News Makes Us Dumber (I Have Proof!)

by glen

The internet is a beautiful place. You can learn anything for free, and it speeds up our productivity considerably. However, as more people start using broadband connections and new technologies, it’s much easier to become bombarded with information. Emails, blogs, forums, IM, etc… pretty soon you’re spending the bulk of your day managing those inputs.

Enter the RSS reader. Now you can track umpteen sites in one place. This time-saver means that you can read and learn more in the same amount of time, thus making us smarter.
Or does it?

Skimming

In theory, the more we are able to read, the more we’re able to know. Sounds pretty simple, right? It actually isn’t. Because now we’ve introduced a mindset that skimming is the new black. How else can you keep up with all the happenin’ stuff going on around the web, 24/7? If you don’t skim the news, you’re pretty much a loser. Even on playgrounds kids who don’t skim Dr. Seuss get beat up and have their lunch money stolen. Okay… maybe it hasn’t gotten that far into our society, but it’s close. Real close.

R.P. Carver did a study in 1992 on speed reading courses that mainly were based on skimming and found the comprehension rates were 50% lower than those who actually read the book verbatim. That’s not good.

Ken Camp’s blog makes a strong point that our hyperconnectivity to the web might actually be a bad thing.

In our hyperconnected state, as we master multitasking, are we losing depth? There are many subjects I feel I barely touch on the surface. We’ve become much a society of bullet points, sound bites and buzz phrases. I attribute it to the Death by Powerpoint syndrome that has gone beyond meetings. We don’t just die by Powerpoint bullets on slides in meetings. We die a little each day as we snapshot the world around us into buzz phrases and bullet points that are our day. We have become masters of the bullet point at the cost of true depth in understanding in many ways.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Fortunately, there is a way out of it. But you’re not going to like it, at least at first. The solution: The Internet Diet. Cut back on your daily intake of RSS and other news sources. Force yourself to read nearly all of your news from start to finish. I’ve written about a few ways to do this before:

Treat Your RSS feeds like a book
Triage your RSS

Another great tip is to start reading books. A book is an investment, so there’s more incentive to read it start-to-finish. But most people don’t know how to actually pull themselves away from the computer long enough to do that. For some general ways to limit your time on the computer:

Limit your time on the computer by shutting it down early
Take a break to plan your next action

What tips do you guys have to keep the number of news inputs to a minimum? Or how to limit computer time in general? All thoughts are welcome in the comments…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Evan November 14, 2006 at 6:40 pm

Hmm, it’s quite something to see all these posts in one day; someone was bitten by the blog bug! It’s also quite ironic to see this posted after a certain comment I posted a short while ago (http://lifedev.net/2006/11/subtle-format-changes/#comment-486). Should I feel special? :D

I agree on the book thing, I recently read 2 books after a total addiction to RSS which I think is still there but less so. I have figured out how I can personally curb my problem, to an extent, I suppose but there is something to consider, news and books are two different things. We have a whole different mindset when doing certain things, not unlike the complaints that teenagers would do poorly in English because of Instant Messaging and all the acronyms used, but the fact is that when communicating with friends they think differently than writing an essay for the S.A.T.

One thing that is a major factor for me to read something is how a site looks, aesthetically, or I should say that it DID matter since I get everything through RSS but I do still go to nytimes.com because I like how the site is laid out and it is just nicer to read there, but that’s not to say I still won’t skim. Interestingly enough, the same can be said for physical books; the paper and way it is printed is a factor I take into consideration when deciding on a book. It’s really an interesting topic which I can relate to totally and would love to go into more detail but I won’t, I should probably get my own blog and stop hogging yours! :p

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glen November 14, 2006 at 9:00 pm

Evan,

Your comments rock. Never hold back the urge to leave a comment here ;)

Actually, this was posted before your comment (or at least before your comment was moderated). But you can still feel special ;)

True, news and books are different things: one’s more time sensitive and frequent, and it uses a whole different mindset. But unfortunately I think that the lines have blurred between distinguishing news sources vs. book-like reading. People carry over their habits from both.

As for the thoughts on aesthetics: VERY true. I still go to Lifehacker sometimes because of the layout, even though I have a perfectly good feed from them over at Google Reader.

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