In found these interesting articles:

1)How Google is Changing Our Information-Seeking Behavior

Nicholas Carr at RoughType cites some new research about how Google and other search engines are changing the way we search for and process information. We are leaving the linear print model far behind and moving to an approach on the web that emphasizes speed, scanning, and skimming (see: Rewiring the mind). Below is an excerpt from his blog note:

The research documents a “new form of information seeking behaviour” that “can be characterised as being horizontal, bouncing, checking and viewing in nature. Users are promiscuous, diverse and volatile.”…By breaking the linear print model that has dominated the transmission of information for the past five centuries, the hyperlinked web seems to be instilling a hyperactive approach to gathering and digesting information, an approach that emphasizes speed, scanning, and skimming. In one sense, the process of information retrieval seems to have become more important than the information retrieved. We store lots of information, but like distracted squirrels we rarely go back to examine it in depth. We want more acorns.

As both a blogger and a web browser, I have absorbed this lesson all too well. Perhaps this style reflects my natural proclivities for processing information, but I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print. To create my blog notes, I browse various web resources and write relatively short notes such as this one. I also restrict my blog notes to about 200-300 words, assuming that my readers have a short attention span similar to mine. Distracted squirrels of the world unit. I think that the future looks bright for us.


2) The Evolution From Linear Thought To Networked Thought

by Scott Karp February 9th, 2008

I was thinking last night about books and why I don’t read them anyone — I was a lit major in college, and used to be voracious book reader. What happened?

So do I do all my reading online because it’s more convenient?

But the convenience argument seems to float on the surface of a deeper issue — there’s something about the print vs. online dialectic that always seemed superficial to me. Books, newspapers, and other print media are carefully laid out. Online content like blogs are shoot from the hip. Books are linear and foster concentration and focus, while the web, with all its hyperlinks, is kinetic, scattered, all over the place.

I’ve heard many times online reading cast in the pejorative. Does my preference for online reading mean I’ve become more scattered and disorganized in my reading?

I’ve also spend a lot of time thinking and talking recently about how understanding the future media on the web is so counterintuitive from the perspective of traditional media — about the challenge of making the leap from thinking about linear distribution to network effects.

What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?

What if the networked nature of content on the web has changed not just how I consume information but how I process it?

What if I no longer have the patience to read a book because it’s too…. linear.

We still retain an 18th Century bias towards linear thought. Non-linear thought — like online media consumption — is still typically characterized in the pejorative: scattered, unfocused, undisciplined.

But just look at Google, which arguably kept our engagement with the sea of content on the web from descending into chaos. Google’s PageRank algorithm is the antithesis of linearity thinking — it’s pured networked thought.

Google can find relevant content on the web because it doesn’t “think” in a linear fashion — it takes all of our thoughts, as expressed in links, and looks at them as a network. If you could follow Google’s algorithm in real time, it would seem utterly chaotic, but the result is extremely coherent.

When I read online, I constantly follow links from one item to the next, often forgetting where I started. Sometimes I backtrack to one content “node” and jump off in different directions. There are nodes that I come back to repeatedly, like TechMeme and Google, only to start down new branches of the network.

So doesn’t this make for an incoherent reading experience? Yes, if you’re thinking in a linear fashion. But I find reading on the web is most rewarding when I’m not following a set path but rather trying to “connect the dots,” thinking about ideas and trends and what it all might mean.

Then I remembered — or rather arrived at in nonlinear fashion — a contrarian piece in the Guardian about an NEA study that bemoaned declines in reading and reading skills. The piece points out the study’s fatal flaw — that it completely neglected to study online reading.

All Giola has to say about the dark matter of electronic reading is this: “Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading.”

Technological literacy

The only reason the intellectual benefits are not measurable is that they haven’t been measured yet. There have been almost no studies that have looked at the potential positive impact of electronic media. Certainly there is every reason to believe that technological literacy correlates strongly with professional success in the information age.

I challenge the NEA to track the economic status of obsessive novel readers and obsessive computer programmers over the next 10 years. Which group will have more professional success in this climate? Which group is more likely to found the next Google or Facebook? Which group is more likely to go from college into a job paying $80,000 (£40,600)?

But the unmeasured skills of the “digital natives” are not just about technological proficiency. One of the few groups that has looked at these issues is the Pew Research Centre, which found in a 2004 study of politics and media use: “Relying on the internet as a source of campaign information is strongly correlated with knowledge about the candidates and the campaign. This is more the case than for other types of media, even accounting for the fact that internet users generally are better educated and more interested politically. And among young people under 30, use of the internet to learn about the campaign has a greater impact on knowledge than does level of education.”

What I’d be most curious to know is whether online reading actually has a positive impact on cognition — through ways that we perhaps cannot measure or even understand yet, particularly if we look at it with a bias towards linear thought.

Is there such a thing as networked human thought? Certain there is among a group of people enabled by a network — but what about for an individual, processing information via the web’s network?

Perhaps this post hasn’t been an entirely linear thought process — is that necessarily a bad thing?

On comments:

-online reading negative results: lack of concentration; The ability to click a link and go to another text (and probably not return to the original) does not allow us to concentrate on a single text. That’s why there are so many usability issues on writing online copy. To keep the reader concentrated on one text. Hypertextuality has evolved reading in an attraction issue. The same applies with e-books, even when they are linear. But this time the lack of concentration does not derive from the text itself, but from the combination of several media. You read a book (one medium) from your computer (another medium). The computer has the tendency to distract the reader from the reading experience, because it gives you the option to take notes, copy/paste text, etc. I believe there is networked human thought. It is our ability to combine a variety of different information and create a completely new cognition. But networked human thought while reading is called attention deficiency. (I know attention deficiency sounds like an illness, but it isn’t. It is supported that attention is a constitutive part of modern societies, but that’s another subject)

-The real question is how we manage the change from linear cognition to non-linear cognition. Are we going to recognize that this is an evolution in human consciousness and start valuing the types of effects that non-linear thought processes elicit? OR will we treat this as a plague to be eradicated and spend untold sums of money and energy trying to kill off the next great leap in human development?

– One place I’ve noticed this is in how I consume video, whether it’s TV, movies or online. I have a very hard time sitting down for a two hour DVD without my laptop anymore. I find myself surfing YouTube to follow up on a CNN story I saw rather than waiting for them to tell me what the next thing to see is.

Laurie Webster If I’m reading something where I need to do some thinking and mulling about the subject, I like translating the blog (for example) to audio. I’ll listen to it a few times. Then I’ll go back to the blog and follow the links that interest me. So for me I need to get the overview (from a linear, audio perspective), and then do the network approach.

– Ognjen I’ve just realized that Scott Karp sounds a bit like Socrates. You know, the guy who questioned communicative usefulness of books about two thousand years ago…

– Mike Schinkel I think robojiannis is spot-on. I far prefer to read from the printed page than from the web because when I’m reading on the web I constantly feel like I need to follow links to get the “complete” story, and following links never ends. With a book or a magazine I can actually “finish” it; not so with the web. I dislike reading on the web so much that I usually print the web posts that I really want to contemplate (I print 8 pages to a sheet using Fineprint so I’m not so so bad ecologically.) But even though I consider myself very web saavy maybe it’s just my age (44) showing.

– Kent Anderson  – This may be a bit of a false premise (linear thought is 18th century and so on). I’m not sure if the computer network has changed thinking or just made a natural type of information acquisition and processing more useful and prominent. Information acquisition has always been a process, I think, of browsing and when finding something worth more concentration, burrowing in. Walking a bookstore, leafing through a newspaper, flipping channels on the TV, scanning emails, trolling blogs, ordering from a menu, choosing a toll booth — there is assessment, sorting, and engagement. In the processed information sphere, there are just many more things to encounter at a superficial level, which makes the experience more about surfing but still the satisfaction and enrichment come from extended engagement, whether in a multi-season TV show or a full game broadcast, a novel, a long and engaging blog entry, or a great email from a friend. We have lived in a processed-information world for centuries now, and the tactics for navigating it are the same, but the balance may swing to either side over time. Being able to participate like this is to me a very real change.

Phil Wainewright – Interesting piece, Scott. But I don’t think this is an either/or thing. Linear reading is about retaining links in your head and then matching them all up at the end — that’s a skill you also need after following a link trail on the Web. I think both skills complement each other, and hopefully my kids will be better at retaining linked information and knitting it all together than I am – after all, when I was a kid, the only networked reading available was following (qv) links in an encyclopedia or thesaurus.

Julie Starr – I too have worried about the way I skip around online, following threads here and there and sometimes forgetting what I started doing two hours earlier. But I certainly don’t feel dumber. If anything I feel smarter. For sure I feel more interested, inspired and my brain feels more fully engaged than it has done in years. So if that’s the result of skippity online reading then bring it on. Funnily enough, like Rafi, I read books much the same way – multiple books at once, generally something requiring full attention first thing in the morning and lighter stuff later on. Almost exclusively read non-fiction. Been doing that for years – long before I became a fully fledged digital citizen.

– A change in discipline, yes- a change in exercise, yes- a change in perspective, yes- a change in ability and use because of tech, yes.- Has the ‘natural’ thought process evolved? No.