19 December 2007

Next Slide Please

Caleb Crain’s article “Twilight of the Books” in this week’s New Yorker provoked several thoughts, which I’ll try to express in coherent form over the next couple of days.

But first, a helpful extract. This passage is supposed to be evidence that “secondary orality [an oral culture driven by television and related media rather than by lack of literacy] and literacy don’t mix.” However, it seems more like an elementary reminder on the effective use of slides:

In a study published this year, experimenters varied the way that people took in a PowerPoint presentation about the country of Mali. Those who were allowed to read silently were more likely to agree with the statement “The presentation was interesting,” and those who read along with an audiovisual commentary were more likely to agree with the statement “I did not learn anything from this presentation.”

The silent readers remembered more, too, a finding in line with a series of British studies in which people who read transcripts of television newscasts, political programs, advertisements, and science shows recalled more information than those who had watched the shows themselves.
People who read slides take in the same information in two ways, so of course they have that feeling of déjà vu. But the better recall is an impressive finding that speaks to Crain’s larger point: reading makes our brains work differently from other ways of taking in information and/or stories.

As for the study, we learned the same thing last month from Unshelved.

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