Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dissonance, the hyperlink and blogs


“Learning how to think, means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” - David Foster Wallace

I've been meaning to write about this all week, but I got distracted. I was probably reading about where LeBron James is headed and clicked on some links, ended up reading about the Cubs then the Illinois Senate race, then the South Carolina Governor race...you get my point. Nicholas Carr's latest book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” has just arrived on bookshelves and he has posed some interesting questions, some of which I think relate to how we use or perhaps should use the internet to communicate. A major question he poses is if links should be listed at the end of web posts. Carr credits Steve Gillmor, who eliminated hyperlinks from his posts a few years ago, with starting this crusade, which is apparently starting to catch on, and with good reason. Have you noticed how hard it is to NOT click on a link in the middle of a post? Do you ever even finish one of our posts before ending up in some far-away place and forgetting how you got there and even forgetting that conference call that you were supposed to be on 15 minutes ago. Me neither.

Carr describes links as "...tiny distractions, little textual gnats buzzing around your head. Even if you don't click on a link, your eyes notice it, and your frontal cortex has to fire up a bunch of neurons to decide whether to click or not. You may not notice the little extra cognitive load placed on your brain, but it's there and it matters. People who read hypertext comprehend and learn less, studies show, than those who read the same material in printed form. The more links in a piece of writing, the bigger the hit on comprehension." So what to do? The general feeling is that links should be listed at the end of the text. This allows you to calmly read through the post and THEN decide which primary, or at least non-tertiary, sources you would like to review. I think it's a good idea. Cheers.

New York Times Sunday Book Review of Carr's new book
New York Times Nicholas Carr Q&A
Carr's original blogpost on the subject
Link to Amazon's DFW "Infinite Jest" page (What Carr is Reading)
Link to Amazon's DFW "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" (What I'm reading) - "Forever Overhead" - wow


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