To Skim, or not to Skim

Here’s a challenge: can you read this whole post without getting distracted?  Can you resist the urge to skim each paragraph for the “gist of it”?

Chances are this will take some effort (or a lot of effort): as a Uni student who has grown up in the technological age I am accustomed to reading on the web, and therefore am a participant in the online reading style known as the “F-shaped pattern“. This style refers to the quick skimming from left to right across the top, and then scanning the middle until the bottom, absorbing a few main ideas but not truly engaging with any of them.

Jane Dorner in her 1993 articles entitled “When readers become end-users : intercourse without seduction”, talks about how readers have now become users, simply scanning written works to obtain the major points, providing an overview and sense of comprehension. But how much are we really absorbing? That’s not to say that this technique is always problematic. When users are websurfing, reading for entertainment, or perusing blogs, it doesn’t matter so much if you’re just skimming, but as the internet is increasingly becoming the source for all our content – news, research, and entertainment – we must ask the question: how is the internet changing the way we read, and the depth with which we take in information and what are the implications for society if the deep, reflective thinking associated with reading is replaced by the “web-page graze”?

After becoming accustomed to reading quick bits of information online, it has become harder to stay focused on long reading assignments that require sustained focus. If people, and in particular, students, are reading less thoroughly and getting more “summarized content”, how will this affect the type of thinking they engage in?  What will be the impact of online reading on the depth with which people immerse themselves in the subjects they are reading about?



Cover, R 2006, “Audience Inter/Active: Interactive Media, Narrative Control and Reconceiving Audience History”, New Media and Soceity, Vol. 8, p.p. 139 − 158, Sage Publications.

Dorner, J 1993, “When Readers Become End-Users: Intercourse without Seduction”, Logos,Vol. 4, No. 1, p.p. 6 − 11.


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