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Fast information for the fast food generation

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David Nicholas | 13:16 UK time, Monday, 21 September 2009

(Professor David Nicholas is the Director of the CIBER research group at University College London, a group which specialises in evaluating behaviour in the digital environment using deep log analysis techniques. The group has evaluated behaviour in the news, health, charity and scholarly fields and, perhaps, is most widely know through its work in evaluating the behaviour of the Google Generation. The following post is published with kind permission and represents David's views; this does not necessarily reflect the views of the BBC or the Digital Revolution production.)

Over the past seven years CIBER has been studying the virtual information-seeking behaviour of millions of people from a variety of subjects and countries and has assembled a unique, massive and robust evidence base of how people actually behave on the Web; not how they say or think they behave (the territory inhabited by the ubiquitous questionnaire and most commentators). Self-report data are flawed because people do not remember (or do not want to say) what they do in cyberspace so we should be wary of what they tell us.

However, the evidence we have collected, obtained from the logs of the websites used, certainly supports Nicholas Carr's contention that we endlessly 'skitter' to cope with living in an information rich, boundless and volatile environment. It shows that information seeking is rapid and horizontal as a result of massive choice, unbelievable and direct access (you can search, yourself, anywhere and anytime), a shortage of time and a reliance on search engines. People bounce along the surface, look at a page or two, prefer shorter items to long ones, rarely spend more than a few minutes on a visit and do not often come back (they are promiscuous).

Where we would disagree with Nicholas is whether 'skitting' or, as we prefer to call it 'bouncing' and 'power browsing', is a wholly new phenomenon. The virtual environment allows us to view information usage and seeking and the resulting outcomes in detail and on an unbelievable scale because every action of everyone who uses a site is recorded. However, this was not the case in the physical information environment and we really knew nothing about how people behaved and, in the information vacuum, when someone took out a book or bought a paper, the assumption was that they read it all.

So maybe we were living a lie and now we know the reality - we have always been 'skitters'; the universe of linear exposition, quiet contemplation, disciplined reading and study was just an ideal which we all bought into and (more worryingly, perhaps) developed information services and products around accordingly. The difference is, of course, (and this is where the concerns really should lie) is that the opportunities for skittering are now legion and this has created ever more skittering and the pace is not letting-up. It is whether this is all leading to major changes in the way we obtain knowledge, particularly whether this constitutes a possible 'dumbing down', that concerns us most.

What is certain is that we (young and old; the naïve and those that know better) have taken to fast information as we have to fast food and we are about to face the same consequences. We shall be exploring this further in the Digital Revolution project.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    "However, this was not the case in the physical information environment and we really knew nothing about how people behaved and, in the information vacuum, when someone took out a book or bought a paper, the assumption was that they read it all.
    So maybe we were living a lie and now we know the reality - we have always been 'skitters'; the universe of linear exposition, quiet contemplation, disciplined reading and study was just an ideal which we all bought into and (more worryingly, perhaps) developed information services and products around accordingly."

    I interpret that to mean we simply don't know.

    People have different strategies for reading; in both print and the Web and in different situations.

    I do skim read. Often I can get the gist of the day's news (in both print and the Web) from just the headlines. If the story makes me want to know more or I need clarification e.g. this headline "Boyle is 'edging closer' to Porno"
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8247815.stm (Surely not? I thought SuBo was doing well in the USA!)
    Then I'll read the first few paragraphs at least.

    If I have time then I'll read both papers or web-pages more thoroughly; reports, commentators and feature articles. The same applies when searching the Web. If preparing report etc then I'll skitter around (web and books) until I find what I'm looking for.
    If I know very little about a subject then I'll be willing to invest more time in reading entire web-pages & articles, even an entire site (or book) so as to get background information.

    And I'm prepared to search persistently. I once read that few people look past the first page of Google's results, which means that those prepared to plough through several pages of results are looking deeper and more persistently.
    How many people rephrase the question - again with persistence? (This also requires a broad vocabulary and a mind able to think in terms of rephrasing the questions.)

    How many use the Advanced search options or try Boolean Operators? How many use more than one Search engine or try the Academic search options? How many are aware of them?

    The majority might skitter, but a minority will have more sophisticated search strategies.
    Is it known what percentage print web-pages (or PDFs) off to read more deeply later?

    It's also interesting that two area where the Web appears to have made little impact so far is a) On how we read fiction. b) How we consume academic text books.
    Quite a lot of fiction that is now out of copyright is now available on the Web; are there any stats for these? (Again including printouts - a basic print on demand service)
    I've yet to meet anyone that's claimed to have read an entire novel on a computer monitor.

    Online bookshops seem to be thriving, they haven't managed to put the high street booksellers (or libraries) out of business either. The Web also appears to have given a shot in the arm to second-hand booksellers operating mail order services.
    As the value of information is also realised then much becomes hidden behind pay-per-view/subscription services; off-putting to many people, but perhaps rejuvenating the use of library services (information providers) that have site licences or alternative sources.

    Two articles by Gillian Davis looking at how Libraries (at the start of the decade) could respond to the on-line challenge are here.
    Digital Reference Services: An Overview
    http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/librarians_information_science/52394

    For-Profit Information Providers: Are Libraries Threatened?
    "Libraries are much more than buildings that house old musty books. Besides texts and online article databases, the library provides research services, personal and specialized assistance from a trained librarian with a masters degree in information organization and access, online database searching skills, and teaching information literacy. These things can’t simply be supplanted by online access to digital collections, no matter how impressive and comprehensive they might be."
    http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/librarians_information_science/56947/1

    Habitual book readers (deep readers may be another way of thinking of them) may be a minority, but I don't think they've become an extinct (or even endangered) species by any means.
    Which also brings me back to my notion of an educated elite that can access information and services better than others.

    I also wonder if there's a divide appearing in the number of people principally accessing information on the Web via video rather than from pages of text?

    Reflecting the divide between those that principally occupied their spare time by watching TV screens and those that have been used to spending more of their time reading?

  • Comment number 2.

    Since when did we (in the UK) inhabit a world where everyone obtained rich information from disciplined reading? I rather concur with the idea stated that because we can now be tracked online for our 'power browsing' it hides the fact that perhaps people have always done this when other physical resources were all that was available.

    Conversations and gossip were a primary source of views & filtered information replaced now perhaps by today's blogs & SN's? Newspaper loyalty to whichever broadsheet, tabloid or weekly press presented news and social gossip through whatever political leaning and editorial agenda the individual masthead stood for. Was the newsbite pieced frontpage of the Financial Times any more factually relevant than the mixed meandering in the many pages of The Mirror? Now there is no need to purchase just one paper the predicted death of the daily printed press has arisen. Specialist magazines and journals do not appear to be under threat showing perhaps for some subjects people demand more depth and information.

    When our broadcast news and edification was from the Wireless we were again limited to the ideals of the BBC. Commercialism brought other airwaves and the explosion of television along the same lines has allowed people to pick and choose the type and style of the source for their information and entertainment. I am rather of the opinion that what the web has done is to reinforce the news and information streams that people would have always chosen but given them many more of the same to access.

    The Financial Times person has the world's stockmarkets available 24/7, The Racing Times person can study form in depth up to the line, The Telegraph's politically attuned reader can catch every Politician's word, sneeze and stumble online. The purchaser of 'Top Shelf' publications has, as we all know, made maximum use of the web's capabilities.

    Does this make us a more 'dumbed down' nation. For those with access to the internet I think not. What it does allow is the moods, views and real feelings of a greater percentage of the population to be known on a daily basis. No longer the single letter 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' but a whole flood swamping of Twitter, e-petitioning No.10 or taking to the streets in a co-ordinated way. The fact that we demand television, radio, movies, music and even books as in ebooks, be available for our use and entertainment at a time and via the technology we choose is the real seismic shift that being online has allowed. Fast food can be a 100% nutritious, well balanced diet - it is all a matter of making the right choices. Now for my free range soft boiled egg with organic wholemeal bread 'soldiers' followed by a fresh fruit salad with natural organic yoghurt and a cup of peppermint tea.

  • Comment number 3.

    Since I'm going offline for the rest of this week (conferences), I'll delay going to sleep by 15 minutes to comment. I'm going to use that word again: CONTEXTUALIZATION.

    The nature of search engines to-date has been to apply statistical methodologies rather than semantic ones which means that the results surfaced aren't as spot-on or relevant, so people are finding themselves having to apply natural intelligence, rapidly and randomly click, skim and discard articles. The artificial intelligence of the search engines simply isn't as smart in classifying documents the way we do in our own mental Rolodexes yet. Some adults are better at contextualization than teenagers simply because they have sharper points of reference. The teenagers possibly compensate for this lack of what the CIBER team identified as "critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web" by even faster click-throughs.

    That's one explanation for the skittering. Another explanation is as SheffTim pointed out about people printing off the documents to read so moving on in their search for the next paper. Likewise, teenagers are now increasingly searching via YouTube and other video sites like Hulu --- either supplementing or substituting their Google searches.

    Teenagers aren't as sophisticated in the way they search and research as those in their 30s-50s. Firstly, the latter group have more reference frames of some article/book/material they once read in their memories and, secondly, experience has developed in them a knowhow about keyword conjugations in the search terms that will extract the specific content they're looking for.

    DEEP (aka semantic) search and services are on their way:

    * http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/23/technology/internet/23search.html

    * http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20090921005229&newsLang=en

    Please also see Microsoft's acquisition of Powerset (http://www.bing.com/community/blogs/powerset/archive/2008/07/01/microsoft-to-acquire-powerset.aspx%29

    Plus Google recently announced its new Book service (http://books.google.com/%29 and there are continuing moves to implement more semantic contextualization in its search engine and verticals:

    * http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10239294-93.html

    * http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/05/google-rich-snippets-semantic-web.html

    Also soon to be launched are Google Wave and Google Squared:

    * http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_UyVmITiYQ

    * http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__INtIXNLmI


    There are also industry-wide proposals for digital semantic assistants once the structured data is in place across the whole Web landscape. Then instead of flitting from page to page in the search engine's list of results, we might pinpoint the materials we do need and actually be able to focus on reading them instead of impatiently trying to find them.

    The way we're searching for information need not be "dumbing down". In certain ways it can help attune our brains to remember to conjugate keywords in a more intelligent way. What matters is our ability to contextualize content and then interconnect it back to other sources in a sense-making / sanity-checking manner.

    Our skimming also varies according to the content. If what we're reading is a transcript of sports or entertainment updates, do we need to concentrate and stay sticky on the site compared with, for example, Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' or Proust or the proof for Fermat's Last Theorem? The skimming and skittishness might simply be a reflection of our brain's natural discern that "This is not worth spending time on. This is."

  • Comment number 4.

    It's funny when anything is analogized with "fast food" since I always make time to cook. Maybe this is an advantage of being Chinese. It's very good for the brain and concentration; take your eyes off the stir-fried vegetables and they taste like mush!

  • Comment number 5.

    "Specialist magazines and journals do not appear to be under threat showing perhaps for some subject's people demand more depth and information."

    A good point made by EnglishFolkfan, and one I have noticed every time I walk into W.H. Smiths. Perhaps most people have at times an interest that the Web alone can't fulfil, a hobby, interest or passion that they like to spend time with, keep for future reference, take with them anywhere, thumb through when bored and so on. Perhaps some sense of personal ownership also means something to people.

    The same may apply to a good read; one advantage of a book is you can take it anywhere - and not have to worry about power sources or recharging batteries etc.

    "Since when did we (in the UK) inhabit a world where everyone obtained rich information from disciplined reading?" Another good point.

    When did we ever live in a world when everyone had even basic literacy? Plus ca change.

  • Comment number 6.

    From this fashion news item today:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8262788.stm

    "The recycling of fashion trends has been speeded up," says Andrew Groves, course director for fashion at the University of Westminster. "We now live in a fast-paced consumer society. Pictures of what's on the catwalks of London Fashion Week today will be on the internet today. Everything is absorbed quicker and we want it quicker. Looks hit the High Street much faster."

    If our perceived needs are driven by marketing and manufacturing these days why should our attitude to the web be different? Or might this be much too simplistic a view.

  • Comment number 7.

    “we really knew nothing about how people behaved and, in the information vacuum, when someone took out a book or bought a paper, the assumption was that they read it all.”

    Given people do still read print based material, the newspaper industry hasn’t yet completely collapsed, libraries continue to be used, books bought, borrowed and then read etc there is still time to do a study of what people read, how they read, differences between family backgrounds, educational achievement, social class etc.

    Given I suspect many youngsters (the Harry Potter generation?) will continue to be readers of books, newspapers, magazines and other printed material there is still time to do a long-term longitudinal study.

    I’m surprised that such a study wasn’t conducted at the same time as the Google generation one (many people weren’t online then, many still aren’t) so as to provide a comparison study.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm in agreement with the other opinions posted above. I think we're assuming too much about the mythical golden age of a super-literate focused society.

    Nice article a few years back about comics, which can hardly be described as literature, including the claim that they encouraged literacy.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6994858.stm

    Did literacy need to be encouraged in the past? If so, and comics were the preferred medium, what does that tell us about who we used to be as a society? Incidentally, comics are extremely popular in Asia.

    Perhaps people just prefer information to be presented visually? Perhaps deep reading is fundamentally unnatural, and only attractive to a minority who in the past have dominated discourse due to the limited availability of channels for opinions. Are we witnessing the dying struggles of one supremacy that was never actually representative of the majority? Maybe it's time to acknowledge that most people don't want deep reading and never have?

    Whether it's beneficial to society to promote this unnatural behaviour - on the grounds that it's something we need to do in our more complex modern world - is a different debate.

    On the other hand, JK Rowling has sold an awful lot of books. What about Wilbur Smith, Dick Francis, or whoever the modern equivalents are? Do people pack a fat murder mystery or romance novel when they go on their hols and actually have time to sit down and read, or do they pack the nintendo?

    I've been watching the TV series Battlestar Galactica recently. I have to say that the story lines are neither simple nor shallow. Lots of deep topics explored, and layers of complexity. Is it coincidence that the show achieved very high viewer ratings? Do people watch The Apprentice just so they can spectate other people's conflicts, or do they enjoy speculating about how they would complete the task or manage the troublecauser? Is it all mindless entertainment, or is it stimulating and challenging? (Also, is it economically sustainable in a world where you don't have to pay for it?)

  • Comment number 9.

    @TaiwanChallenges - interesting that you link to the article about comics and literacy claim: similar concerns for the loss of comics and future literacy (or in this case newspaper reading) are raised in this article - pointed out to me by @EnglishFolkFan via Twitter.

    I too think David Nicholas and the comments here are right to observe that it has only been assumed (and enforced) that books are the best way to learn and consume information. It is for some personality types - it very much isn't for others - any trainer will tell you that. I also seem to recall (although not well enough to cite a reference - it may have been Stephen Fry) a point made that reading is not a 'natural' act. It is an artificially constructed form of communication - are images a more natural form? Comics therefore would be a good tool for educational elision from pictorial to text-based consumption, no? (I used to be an avid comics reader/collector, so I would be pro-comics.)

    'Do people pack a fat murder mystery or romance novel when they go on their hols and actually have time to sit down and read, or do they pack the nintendo? I pack both ;)

    @sheffTim 'Perhaps most people have at times an interest that the Web alone can't fulfil, a hobby, interest or passion that they like to spend time with, keep for future reference, take with them anywhere, thumb through when bored and so on. Perhaps some sense of personal ownership also means something to people. Two questions there - the idea of 'owning' something - mainly in this case an artifact - people may still harbour that desire, I wonder for how long though (music, movies, even books, are more and more moving into ephemera...). Kevin Kelly writes compellingly on this subject Then the case of a hobbyist - I was talking to friends yesterday, who informed me that YouTube is becoming a search engine in and of itself - for just this sort of requirement: instructional video, tips-sharing etc. How do I build a model boat? Do I start by buying Acme Boat Modeller magazine, or do I search for tips and techniques on YouTube?

    Certainly you can learn to dance hip hop style (or any other style) on the 'tube.

    PS - I have (finally) replied to previous comments on Nicholas Carr's blog post - thanks for your patience.

  • Comment number 10.

    “How do I build a model boat? Do I start by buying Acme Boat Modeller magazine, or do I search for tips and techniques on YouTube?”

    Perhaps some (the shrewd) do both, others choose one or the other.
    I use YouTube to get instructional videos (yoga - which being quite visual anyway suits a video format); but it might also be looking at different learning-style prefernces: (visual, audio, kinaesthetic, read-write, linguistic, experiential , interpersonal, musical, mathematical etc) all of which influence how people both learn and seek learning material.

    I put above #1: “I also wonder if there's a divide appearing in the number of people principally accessing information on the Web via video rather than from pages of text?” and questioned: “

    Reflecting the divide between those that principally occupied their spare time by watching TV screens and those that have been used to spending more of their time reading?” (Between the literate and the less literate is another way of putting it; it’s not exact, curiosity also come into it; some have little curiosity about the world.)

    That also might be a point worth following up; education has for a while realised that one way to overcome low levels of reading/writing ability is to present material in a visual/auditory format, so people just have to watch/listen.

    TV/video also presents material in ways that appeal to those that learn in visual or audio styles.
    However, in a classroom this is also often followed [reinforced] by discussion (interpersonal), research (text etc), writing [text], drawing and modelling [kinaesthetic] doing experiments [experiential] etc. There’s a vast body of literature and educational theory on this too.

    There are disadvantages to video/TV as an educational medium; one is that the mind becomes passive (enters a low alpha wave state) when just watching TV or video and takes in less (zones out).
    This isn’t just an opinion; there is some evidence behind it.
    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/247802/your_brain_waves_change_when_you_watch.html
    http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-alpha-waves.htm

    Those that claim that Alpha waves aid learning usually are trying to sell something like: ‘Learn a language whilst you sleep’ tapes.

    The discussion seems to be falling into the old “will TV/videos/the Internet kill off reading and books?”
    We’ve been here before; so far over the years the answers been ‘No’.

    PS: ‘Stephen Fry made a point made that reading is not a 'natural' act. It is an artificially constructed form of communication…’

    Stephen, Stephen, Stephen: all language itself, in its many varied forms, is an artificially constructed form of communication. (It can be argued that all social forms of social interaction are artificially constructed too.)

    We can only make sense of visual images if we can place them into a context that helps us understand them; otherwise they’re just blobs of colour. Hence the development of the minds ability to process stimuli in order to make sense of the world around us (some of the blobs of colour had teeth and claws and ate us!).
    Eventually the emergence of social interaction and communication led to the development of language which contributed to the emergence of more sophisticated human intelligence.

    From cave-art to pictograms (then to hieroglyphics and finally an alphabet) was a fairly logical progression, driven by an increasingly sophisticated need to communicate.

  • Comment number 11.

    @SheffTim 'PS: ‘Stephen Fry made a point made that reading is not a 'natural' act. It is an artificially constructed form of communication…’

    Stephen, Stephen, Stephen: all language itself, in its many varied forms, is an artificially constructed form of communication. (It can be argued that all social forms of social interaction are artificially constructed too.)


    Woah - I said it may have been Stephen Fry, but I can't be sure of that, so please don't take it out on he whose name I may have taken in vain. In this case it is entirely fair to shoot the messenger :)

  • Comment number 12.

    My apologies to the intellectually redoubtable and much loved Mr Fry should the thought cited by Dan not be one of his; if it were one of his I am sure it would be just the introduction to a much fuller exploration of how and why we communicate; perceive and interpret the world around us; interact with one another and much, much more.

    My apologies to Dan Biddle for having just scanned the text and not having taken the time to read and digest it fully. ( It must be the Internet’s fault! :-) Something about ‘hoist’ and ‘petard’ is lurking at the back of my mind!)

  • Comment number 13.

    @SheffTim - dare I throw in a LOL here? :D

    I've found the place I heard this - an edition of R4's Analysis about the web and its effects.

    (Maryanne) WOLF: Human beings were never born to read. We were born to speak. We were born to see, smell, hear, but never read. What the human brain had to do was to rearrange its existing parts.

    Stephen Fry was also a contributor on the show, which is presumably where I began my long, hard grapple towards the wrong end of the stick :)

    Dan

  • Comment number 14.

    Dan ~ Feel free to LOL. A lot!

    At risk of putting my foot in it again:

    Wolf is author of 'Proust and the Squid' on how reading developed, for: "unlike its component parts such as vision and speech... reading has no direct genetic program passing it on to future generations."

    I think (most) humans are born with the capacity to make sounds, but speech (language) still has to be leant; language isn't passed on by genes.

    Wolf identifies three traits that seem to be unique to (or more developed in) humans that explain how we developed the ability to read (and presumably also write).
    1. The capacity to make new connections among older structures.
    2. The capacity to form or appropriate regions of the brain that are specialized for recognizing and extracting patterns in a mass of information.
    3. The ability to learn to recruit and connect information from these regions of the brain.

    I'd argue that these abilities are crucial for much more than just the development of reading or for the emergence of language; they go back to the stage when we began to identify some blobs of colour and connect then with teeth, claws and the threat of being eaten; other blobs of colour with satisfying hunger and so on. (This of course is reducing to a few lines a number of enormously complex fields, each with its own controversies. I probably also very unsatisfactorily summarise Wolf's position.)

    As far as reading is concerned these abilities mean: "Reading involves complex mental processes that are not natural to the brain's earliest functions. As a result, new neural connections need to be developed in the right order if someone is to be a good reader." [D. Mitchell.]

    Wolf is concerned that the digital age, Txt speak, skimming etc will lead to less neural connections being formed and so on. This may mean digital-age children may never be able to read with the same thoughtfulness and comprehension as their parents.

    The jury's still debating this, some would argue it could mean more neural connections will be made. (I'm sure Person_Not_a_Bot would have a few thoughts on this.)

    I would argue that those introduced from an early age to reading from both print and digital mediums, to rich vocabulary (and concept) development and to critical thinking (etc) will develop more neural connections, become used to operating at a number of different levels (skimming, deep reading) in different contexts.
    Yes, it returns yet again to my notion of an ' a better educated elite' in society, but they've always been there.

    I don't think its the digital age that will play the biggest factor in influencing how people develop their reading ability, the ability to process information, build vocabulary and develop intelligence; it's the background that children are born into that continues to play by far the biggest and most crucial part in their development.

    PS. Interesting discussion; deeper and more complex than I first thought.

  • Comment number 15.

    Communication (speaking, reading, typing and more),.......nature or nurture? Whilst and/or not logic is helpful for distinguishing between bipeds and four-legged mammals and the Venn diagram's mutual inclusiveness is great for determining areas of triangulation (or red and yellow overlapping makes orange), those forms of mathematics aren't particularly helpful in answering the nature or nurture question.

    It's not one or the other and nor is it about areas of overlap, imo. Nature-nurture might more like gas dispersion: one is the main carrier and the other is injected into it with varying volumes and intensity.

    If it was nature alone, someone like me wouldn't be able to speak or read any English since my family can be traced back several thousand years and no Western languages have been spoken in this cultural lineage until my generation. If it was nurture alone, I'd be able to resist LOL-ing at "lost in translation" scenarios.

    There was a recent example where I watched 'Ashes of Time (Redux)' by Wong Kar-Wai. The speech was in two forms of Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) so aurally I was able to understand both and discern between the two. The subtitles were in Spanish and I found part of my brain translating the Spanish into English to check whether the Chinese to Spanish translation was different from if it was in English. Spanish I get by fair fine with, textually, because I've passed my Business French DFAII (accredited Paris Chamber of Commerce) and know Italian.

    Is the reading, comprehension and ability to retain a language different depending on the medium? Is it intaken by the brain differently if it's via subtitles on a screen, within a book in the original language, on the Web, through some shorthand copywriter's text byte, 'I'm lovin' it' on some billboard, or speech bubbles in 'The Dark Knight' graphic novels by Chip Kidd?

    What we should bear in mind is that there's a technical aspect of language (e.g., subjunctive conjugations in French) and simultaneously there's ambiguity, incongruence and experiential innovation --- of the type which generates double entendres, puns, simile silliness and lost in translation LOLs. The word "fromage" can simply mean the French word for "cheese" to some but others might associate it with Madonna since one of her pet names is "Madge" and so "fromage" could be interpreted to mean from her or to indicate she's a VIP or in a negative way in terms of noxiousness.

    A classroom of kids aged 12 can all read Dicken's 'Great Expectations' and perceive it with nuanced differences between each of them. This is partly attributable to concentration and whether they skip over the key contextualization parts --- particularly Ms Haversham's backstory which pre-determines her motivations towards Estelle, whether they read it superficially (story about a boy made good) or whether they may have neural access to compare and contextualize him vis-à-vis Golding's savage boys or Na Ja from 'The Journey West'.

    The sticklers for books will wax lyrical about the sensuousness of the canvas built from words à la D.H. Lawrence and the metaphorical richness that can be conveyed in words like "a rose" (it makes us associate with 'Romeo and Juliet', the perfumes of '1001: Arabian Nights,' Umberto Eco and so on). However, for some topics, like knitting and cooking the flat, static 2D nature of the book simply doesn't give us sufficient insight compared with the television or the Internet video.

    I tried to learn how to crochet by reading some books. That didn't work. Then I discovered this amazing GUY on YouTube:

    * http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXW7U9tsdK4


    Nonetheless, David Mitchell is probably right about "new neural connections need to be developed in the right order if someone is to be a good reader." The principal word being "RIGHT". What I noticed having being educated in both English and Chinese systems (alphabet versus ideograms) is how much stricter the rules for Chinese are. In Chinese if your teacher saw you writing a stroke out of the right order or from bottom to top or right to left, you'd most likely have to write it out again over and over and over. Maybe that partially explains how Western and Oriental concentrations are different.

    As for whether more or less neural connections will form I tend to regard TXT speak as INCREASING our library of words. After all, not only do we need to know the original stem of the word we also need to know the acronym and how to decipher a whole string of non-vowel letters. In a sense (I don't know if anyone's familiar with code deciphering and the Enigma methodology), but it's like our brains have to know the master keys of the original words, the locks and also the comprehension disks.

    From experience, I'd say it's critical to establish a certain level of correct literacy and grammar in the child before letting them loose on text acronyms and wordplay ambiguities for fun and wit.

  • Comment number 16.

    Here's a great example of text and visuals working in conjunction. David Price just released some videos about debategraph:

    * http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32InMNjO4tQ

    * http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg_-E6AMkeU


    I love to read but in certain cases I'm mindful of the adage, "A picture says a thousand words."

    Of course, Chinese characters (especially the traditional form) are pictures and there are symbology associations within each radical or component of the whole character. This makes me LOL because remember before I mentioned the mereology of "GUNK" and Bertrand Russell's philosophy about the value of the parts. That's quite obviously the Chinese element of my brain (nature and nurture) at play, deriving it from a cross-pollination of Western sources.

    Anyway, I've seen this innovation which will combine future e-books with embeddable videos so we may end up with the best of all worlds: literacy and dynamic pictures:

    * http://www.futureofthebook.org/sophie/download/demo_books/


    Anyone interested can read the Gettysburg Address there, :*)!

  • Comment number 17.

    @APNAB 'Nature-nurture might more like gas dispersion: one is the main carrier and the other is injected into it with varying volumes and intensity. ' There's not many other blogs I'd think to find that kind of comment. That's why I love this project!

    Your observations on learning the language rules to then break them ring true for most disciplines, I'd say; from paint to film to economics even (we're back to the old Free-conmy again...!), it's said you have to understand the rules before you can break them (creatively) - language especially - from Joyce to Rascal.

    Because Sophie requires a download and install which my BBC computer objected to, I can't access it. I'm intrigued though.

    @SheffTim 'it's the background that children are born into that continues to play by far the biggest and most crucial part in their development.' Very true, which returns us (though not exclusively) to the issue of the digital divide - those technological haves and have nots that exist. I had a very interesting discussion with Luciano Floridi about this - and his conclusions re this potential divide cast a stark warning for the future indeed. I'm hoping he will shortly be providing a blog to explain these ideas for us.

  • Comment number 18.

    Good to see the blog allowing access again. Before, it kept directing me, on a loop, to some new BBC Membership beta system on https://id.bbc.co.uk (I saved the html file just in case if BBCDigRev team need it to investigate).

    Anyway, I was going to comment like this:

    @ Dan Biddle --- I'm going to "(C) All rights reserved." to all my comments henceforth, LOL, :*).


    Re. SOPHIE it's built with the Squeak language. This is originally derived from Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg's work in smalltalk and is an example of the genius that can be generated when male and female minds collaborate.

    Think of it like a cross between InDesign, which is what most newspapers and magazine layout specialists use, and the book images Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater use on their food programs. There's a picture of what the dish should look like, formal ingredients and then their handwritten notes.

    Except that Sophie is about dynamic content rather than a static image.

    With SOPHIE we can have blocks of text, embed videos, annotate notes onto the page and layout the content as it suits our tastes. Additionally, we can save different versions of it so it comes a dynamic and organic book where we can retrace previous amendments to each page.

    Now imagine a Kindle version of SOPHIE reader with 'Harry Potter'. We would still have JK Rowling's words. On some pages we'd have video embeds showing the Warner Brothers' movie of it. We'd have some handwritten notes from various readers on how they much they like / dislike a character or a passage, for example. Then also we might have a version of how we would re-imagine the text or the audiovisuals.

    THAT would quite seriously develop the reading, comprehension, contextualization and imagination of youngsters in an innovative media synergy, in my view.


    Re. Stephen Fry, he's #4 on T3's Top 100 Most Influential Tech People:

    * http://tech100.t3.com/


    There are lots of interesting people in the list who might be suitable interview candidates for the documentary series.

 

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