Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reading: Online Versus Offline

Recently, Writtenwyrd pointed out that there is a lot of great material on writing on the net. Blogs, of course, but also articles all over the place on characterization, punctuation, grammar, style, voice, common errors, etc. I read quite a few writing related blogs and have checked out lots of online essays, but there is an issue. And I wonder if it’s just me, just a matter of experience and training, and if the younger generations will find this issue trivial.

The issue is that I, personally, don’t feel like I read at the same depth when I’m reading online as I do when I’m offline. Almost everything about being online is faster paced to me, and that includes reading. When I’m into a printed book, I often stop and think about what I’ve just read, or stop to visualize what is happening. I almost never do that when I’m reading online. I feel like I need to get the material and move on.

I think about this in relationship to my students. Most of them don’t read enough, certainly, but more and more of what they are reading is indeed online. And I wonder if they are handicapping themselves even further in the development of that reading practice we liked to call “Critical Reading,” where there is a big evaluation component.

But maybe it’s just a matter of practice and experience. I grew up reading print, of course. To me, that is still, in a sense, “real” reading. Will students who grow up reading online develop the same relationship with that media as those of us who grew up with print developed?

Do you find yourself reading faster and shallower online? Does reading on an ereader make any difference? When I sit down with my Kindle, I read much like I do with a regular printed book. But that’s not true on the computer as I surf the net. I wonder how much of this to bring up with my students. Maybe I’ll try to get them into a discussion of it. But I need to do some more thinking on the topic myself. How about you?



sandra seamans said...

I skim articles more online than if I'm holding a book. What bothers me more is the people giving the information. You really need to check out the credentials of the posters before you start believing everything you read.

Randy Johnson said...

I tend to read faster when perusing an online piece. Like you, I feel the need to get it done and don't think much about it like when into a real book.

I suppose it's what we were raised on and computer reading is a whole different animal in my opinion.

I'm not nearly as proficient in computer usage as my late twenties nephew who grew up on them and therefor don't like to read novels sitting there before the screen.

I don't have an ebook reader so that may be a little different as one can handle it somewhat in the approximate style of a paper book.

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm with you about books: I prefer them, and I do think I read less intensively, I guess you could say, on line. But mostly it's because I hate the reading format. I do NOT like reading online very much, or on a screen. I likely won't be getting an ereader anytime soon, if at all, just for that reason. Besides, I like a book in hand. It's familiar and comfortable, and I don't need power to read it.

Besides, every time I read on the internet, I am thinking, "just because it's on the web doesn't mean it's true." Wikipedia, blogs, any article that isn't from a major news organization are suspect as far as veracity as far as I'm concerned.

But like I said in a followup comment on that last post of yours, I was really thinking that new writers might not be able to afford to buy a bunch of books on writing (or find them in the local libraries) and they might not have the time to read them cover-to-cover. So searching for specific things or lurking in the blogosphere and joining in those conversations is a valid way to learn a lot, too, I think.

Sidney said...

I tend to read non-fiction more easily at a desk or on a laptop, news articles and even features. I read longer articles online more easily than I used to.

I'm more comfortable reading a novel or short story on an iPhone with an e-book app.

Cloudia said...

The vastness of the net does urge speed. How can I ever read all the blogs I follow????!!!!

But paper in your hand?

Having said that, I think that brief,
have a directness
that thick books lack today.

Who has the time?

Get to the point!

This is why I lay my posts out
line breaks and spaces-
so the reader's eye & mind think of my ideas as
bon bons - not as an assignment.

Don't exhaust the eye - lure it down

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

nephite blood spartan heart said...

I read and skim much more online-and I admit I don't try as hard with blogs etc to have more grammar rodeo skills-I just try to punch out the thoughts.

And while I have tried out a few things like Kindle (has some cool benefits) I still prefer a dog eared copy of a favorite book in hand.

BernardL said...

I read faster online but more intently. My focus online is research on vehicle repair or news which interests me. My reading offline is not quite as focused but more enjoyable. Maybe it all depends on perspective.

Mike Golch said...

I tend to skim(speed read) the articles than read them

sage said...

I read much faster and shallower online--I'm generally skimming, looking for something. I often read with a pencil in my hand, taking notes, etc. I've thought that at some point I'll give an electronic reader a try as many of them have ways to take notes.

ArtSparker said...

Yup. The words on pages stay until the book crumbles into dust. The words on the screen...lit for an instant and then scrolled through. Out, out brief candles.

Steve Malley said...

Net-reading is certainly faster. It may have started as a hardware-issue (refresh-rates on screens, download times in the Lost Age of Dialup, etc) or possibly a social one, but for some reason, since the invention of HTML, web pages have gone for the look and feel of magazine articles.

And like net articles, I don't read the average magazine deeply. I flip through it at my convenience, finding the occasional gem. And though I'll dive right in to novel after novel and nonfiction of any length, if a magazine article seems to run too long, my eyes glaze over and I flip the page.

Just saying...

Travis Erwin said...

I'm with you. My online reading is often peripheral at best. Except of course when I'm reading your blog. ;)

jodi said...

Charles, I am much the same way. It might be that I carve out a quiet time for books whereas my laptop is usually working in an area of other stimulus. I do tend to take books much more seriously!

Lisa said...

Critical reading is blog reading. Comfort reading is that book you cuddle with to sleep.

Heff said...

Thanks to my blogging past, I tend to skim over ALL forms of text now, lol !

Rick said...

I think you're on to something, Charles. What I miss is the kinesthetics of reading which kick in the deeper modality.

It's like when I used to wear glasses, I'd always take them off before going to bed. When I got contacts, I felt more tired, less awake, and less alert because my mind kept saying "You're not wearing glasses. Time to go to bed."

I think it's the same for me with reading a book versus on the web. When I grab hold of a book (notice the phrasing so similar to catching onto an idea) it is kind of like a voice in my head that says, "Time to immerse."

What do you think? Does that happen at all to you because of the physical mechanism?

pattinase (abbott) said...

This is absolutely true for me. Once I get the gist of it online-I'm off. Sitting in my chair before the fire, a cup of tea or a glass of wine in hand, I am in for the finish.

Richard Prosch said...

Blog reading only gets about 40% of my attention. I often find myself reading the first sentence of each para. and skimming the rest.

Charles Gramlich said...

sandra seamans, yes, there’s certainly no vetting of content on the web, which makes you take a lot of things with a grain of salt. Although that’s no guarantee printed material is accurate, it has been at least semi-edited at some point. And more thought has gone into it probably.

Randy Johnson, yeah, I find the Kindle reading experience isn’t much different than a book, although it is slightly since it keeps a running tally of what percentage of the book you’ve finished.

writtenwyrdd, I agree. Especially new writers, or poor student writers, can find a lot of stuff online that can really be helpful. If they take some time to vet it and evaluate it.

Sidney, I don’t really read a lot of news articles. Most nonfic I read is scientific stuff so the book format still works best for me. So you find the novel reading on the IPhone to be good eh?

Cloudia, one thing I will talk a lot about in my class is using section and heading breaks to improve both the appearance and readability of nonfiction text. It’s similar to what you’re saying here.

David J. West, yes, I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point of preferring ebook reading. I’m getting more comfortable with it though. But nothing will ever replace books for me.

BernardL, I see what you’re saying. It is part of the fast paced feeling, maybe. I can lounge with a book but I don’t lounge well online.

Mike Golch, I do so too.

sage, It’s much the same for me. My kindle does allow note taking but I haven’t really availed myself of it much. I’d do more if I were reading more nonfic on it. I’m going to post about Marginalia at some point.

ArtSparker, a good way to put it.

Steve Malley, that’s just the way I interact with the stuff too. The book is a whole. A magazine is a collection of parts. The net is that same kind of collection of parts.

Travis Erwin, of course. Well, I always know I’m the exception that proves the rule! :)

jodi, yeah, that too, the computer is so much more about work to me than just reading a book.

Ocean Girl, now that’s interesting. I will have to think on that more.

Heff, what about beer labels? Do you skim over those? Good to see you around, dude.

Rick, I think the physical probably does drive quite a bit of it. I tend to read on the computer in an upright posture, but when I read a book my posture is much different. And the whole physical act is very different. I think this is an important element I wasn’t thinking too much about when I first wrote this post.

pattinase (abbott), the difference between a dash to the car for some groceries, and a long walk in the park.

Richard Prosch, it’s almost like you can feel all that other “stuff” out there waiting for you. Or so it seems to me. I’m much more easily distracted.

ivan said...

Online copy seems like media writing-- specific, immediate, few words wasted.

I sort of agree with Randy Johnson above. The need to be done with it and not thinking about it much.

Actually, perhaps you could devote some of your course to media writing. You learn stuff like how big is a micron, when and how to bracket and unbracket (or maybe even know where to place the period).

Also Gertrude Stein stuff, like there's no need to place a question mark here, is there.
Media writing--at least the way it was taught to me.
...And God help you if you ever, ever use the copula verb to be in media writing. Professor Christine McBeth (at my alma mater, Ryerson University) would give you a zero for this.
I think I did get a doughnut from her once.
Also in economics on a multiple choice exam!. Those doughnuts were hard to swallow.
So, online writing might be like media writing?
And a book is actual writin'?

j said...

Yes and no. I do tend to read lighter online and have been guilty of skimming. I never do that with books.

But, since what I read online is often of a personal nature, my emotions are captured easier. I can't tell you how often I find myself in tears when I read what another person is experiencing. The tears come quicker when I'm reading online than they do when I read a book.

Erik Donald France said...

Agreed. Hard to better the codex book format. I'd definitely discuss with students. And urge them to read the "old" format as much as possible.

the walking man said...

Reading is reading to me. If I get the concept in front of me then I go on, but if I have a question, I stop there and I think about what I read, no matter the medium, until I understand the material presented.

I am in the fortunate position of not being pressed for time or swayed by internet speeds.

Angie said...

I prefer printed books for the convenience and portability -- I haven't seen an e-book reader yet which attracts me -- but other than that I don't feel like my reading experience on the computer is any shallower than it is with a book in my hand. I don't feel a particular rush to get through something and on to the next item, per se; if something is interesting and absorbing, I have no problem taking some time with it, bookmarking it, Googling any side-topics which catch my interest and then going back to the original material, etc.

It's funny, I went in to work with my husband last week so I could go to his goodbye lunch, and during the morning I was sitting with a book in one of the only available chairs in his office, which was in front of a computer with internet access. I'd had some questions about places mentioned in the book which weren't on any of the maps (nonfiction book on ancient Arabia) and because I was sitting right there, I looked them up, and one or two other things, and found some great supplemental material online which enhanced my comprehension and appreciation of the book. I'd been thinking of Googling these things for a while, but had never actually done it because I do most of my paper book reading downstairs on the couch. If I could always do that when I read, there'd be some obvious benefits.

Which isn't to say I'm going to start reading all my books up here in the computer room, sitting in my office chair. :/ But an e-book reader with easy access to Google in a switchable window would be very cool.

I think you're right in general about younger people being more accustomed to reading on the computer, but I'm not sure where the line might be, and I'm pretty sure it's not purely age anyway. You're only five years older than I am, so it's not like there's this huge generational chasm between us. I've been online, reading massive amounts of text starting with bulletin boards and such, since the late eighties. I suppose if you got online significantly later, then that might be the key factor -- years of experience and acclimatization to the environment, rather than age per se. [ponder]


G. B. Miller said...

Usually, when I come across a lengthy post during my twice weekly blog rounds, I'll briefly skim it just to grab a basic outline.

If it grabs my interest, I'll hit it again during my pick and choose round and read it more thoroughly.

I actually appreciate the lenghty posts that people put out there, but I have to be in the right frame of mind in order to read and enjoy it.

As for books, the majority of the time, I have a tendency to really whip through non-fiction (about 2 days average) as opposed to taking my time with fiction (about a week or so).

Bernita said...

Like Sandra, I tend to skim while reading on-line. Probably because I'm usually looking for a specific fact, but nevertheless it has become a habit.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, I don’t know if I know anything at all about media writing. I’ve never had any interest in doing that, although I’ve had a sister and currently have a brother who edit the Charleston, Arkansas Newspaper. I see the similarity with the net stuff, though. Hadn’t really thought of that.

jennifer, hum, I can see that. I guess it’s true of me to in the sense that I read stuff by people I know now. At least through the net. Blogs particularly are almost like letters from friends maybe.

Erik Donald France, reading is one theme I harp on throughout the writing class. I don’t know how you can separate them.

Mark, I think the net is still more about work for me than anything. Maybe that’s it.

Angie, the very ease with which you can follow links online though may, I suspect, increase the shallowness of the reading. I can see it enhancing your knowledge base, but does it not distract from the digestion of other material? Maybe there is a difference between fiction and nonfiction in this too. Good food for thought, though.

G, I’m exactly the opposite on fiction and nonfiction in print form. I read nonfiction very slowly, and fiction very rapidly. Interesting.

Bernita, Yes, it’s a habit for me too and not one I’m sure I should have.

Voidwalker said...

I don't believe I read any more shallow just because it's online, but honestly I never considered it. I did grow up in the computer world, which had a heavy impact on my life, so maybe that is why. I still think that nothing beats a good book, but I still try to give my attention to articles and feeds online, though they may not be as content heavy.

laughingwolf said...

i'm so old i only ever read real books, held in my feeble fingers ;) lol

Fresca said...

RE physicality [per Rick]:
I wonder how much the sense of smell has to do with reading.

The computer's e-odors don't tempt me to linger like the smell of
and board.

But maybe that's because I imprinted on the physical books early on.

(I popped over to your blog from Art Sparker's Kirk/Spock post. I predict that Captain Kirk gets to program the odor of his computer.)

Angie said...

Charles -- for nonfiction, I think it's all enhancement. :) When I'm reading fiction, I'm less likely to go look something up, but it's not like reading a paper book means a completely interruption-less experience. I'll stop and get up to get something out of the freezer for dinner, or get something for lunch or something to drink, or to do some walking or an exercise set, whatever. So pausing in the middle of an e-book, or a story posted online, because I noticed I have new e-mail really isn't that different. How deeply I get into the material has more to do with the story and the writing than with how or where I'm doing the reading. If the story is that absorbing, I'm not going to comprehend or understand or appreciate or remember it less because of a few interruptions.

Actually, I find I have more disengage-engage issues if I'm reading a paper book on the bus trip or at the airport, where I can't choose when it's time to stuff the book into my bag and move, than I do online, where I can choose a place (like the end of a scene or chapter) where I'll stop to check my RSS feed.


Aimlesswriter said...

I don't have a kindle so I can't answer that but I skim online and dive in to a print book. Is it my upbringing? The decade I grew up in? Maybe.
A printed book in hand relaxes me.

Charles Gramlich said...

Voidwalker, you may be in the transitional generation, my friend. We live in exciting times, anyway.

laughingwolf, are you calling yourself a dinosaur? I'm guessing it's at least a toothed variety. ;)

Fresca, thanks for visiting. I appreciate it. I can't attest to your thesis here, however, because I personally completely lack a sense of smell. Yet I sure do love books. :)

Angie, that's certainly true about the interruptions when I'm reading a paper book. You may also be in the transistional wave where the differences between text and ereading is diminishing or disappearing. I suppose I'm still seeing a lot of my ereading as being related to work, although I certainly do a lot of print reading for work too. I suppose it depends on what the interruptions are for. To follow a link that gives you more depth, or to stop to check unrelated emails. Perhaps those make a difference.

Aimless Writer, a printed book is a cue for me to put aside other thoughts and other issues and focus on the text at hand. That's for sure.

Akasha Savage. said...

I absolutely agree with you. When I'm reading online I skim through the text most of the time, reading as fast as I can. I wonder why that is?

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm with you. If anything, when I'm really interested in reading something I find online, I'll print it out. Being more of a non-fiction reader, I'm also reading to learn. It's much easier to highlight info in a book than to copy & paste a text, then highlight it in Word...blech. Who needs the hassle?

Lana Gramlich said...

I have to add that comments on my blog are great evidence that some people don't or aren't really reading, that they're skimming, at best.
For example, on my art blog, I'd posted a drawing I did in '96 & a short paragraph about my shoulder recovery. At the very bottom, separate from the paragraph & in italics, was a little disclaimer about how the pencil sketch was done in '96 & wasn't representative of what I was currently working on (which I'd started with my right hand, instead of my left.) The only comment the post garnered started with; "This is right handed work? oh,not's not easy to switch hand like this.."

In a similar vein, despite my mention & (until recently,) my permanent post about having postcards & other products available with my works on them, I still get comments from people suggesting I should do postcards or what have you. I get comments that people can't afford my work, despite the fact that it's available much more cheaply in other formats...

I'm done rambling now. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Akasha, partly it's that we're still not really relaxed when we're reading online, I think.

Lana, I hear you. I think that is part of the rush to get things read online.

laughingwolf said...

all old the toothed birds went extinct, charles ;) lol

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, well, we all do eventually. but if you make a few million years you'll be OK.

cs harris said...

I find it a very different experience. That's why I always run off my chapters edit a paper copy as I write. I find things just "sound" differently on paper. I always make far more changes that way than when I simply try to edit online.

Unknown said...

I find the same thing but if there's something I want to pour over, I save it to read in depth later.

Mary Witzl said...

I really don't enjoy reading online or spend time over online materials, and I can't figure out why that is.Like Randy, I feel as though online reading is a chore to be gotten through quickly. I like being horizontal when I read -- maybe that's it? I like the visceral feel of a book too.

All of my students vastly prefer online reading. More and more I'm beginning to feel like one of those old farts yelling "Get a horse!" at car drivers.

Charles Gramlich said...

candy, I've actually stopped doing most of my editing on printed copies but I should probably continue to do so. I do it with novel length stuff or longish short stories, but not so much anymore with essays or articles. It depends.

Gaston Studio, I do that too, but I find sometimes that I never get back to the piece I wanted to study. Once the immediacy is gone.

Mary Witzl, part of it may well be age. I just don't get comfortable for long hours upright in a chair. I start to hurt!

Fresca said...

A bit unrelated, but today I wrote a post about how bloggers handle comments, and I wanted to let you know I named you as a model:
you have 30-40 comments here, and you replied to every one.

I think that's terrific, and it's how I want to be---and I know it's a challenge, even for me who usually gets single-digit-number comments per post.

So, I commend and thank you.
Nicely done.