26 January 2009

The Quest for Online Ludic Reading

A long time back, Bonny Becker sent a link to Michael Agger's article in Slate about recent research on how we read online. Agger reported some surprising results:

When you look at early research, it's fascinating to see that even in the days of green phosphorus monitors, studies found that there wasn't a huge difference in speed and comprehension between reading on-screen and reading on paper. Paper was the clear winner only when test subjects were asked to skim the text.
So why isn't online reading for pleasure more popular with more people? One problem is that online readers are almost always skimming the text.

We can get deeply into what we read online, just as with books, but the digital texts from on an internet-wired computer face more competition:
Pleasure reading is also known as "ludic reading." Victor Nell has studied pleasure reading (PDF). Two fascinating notions:
  • When we like a text, we read more slowly.
  • When we're really engaged in a text, it's like being in an effortless trance.
Ludic reading can be achieved on the Web, but the environment works against you. Read a nice sentence, get dinged by IM, never return to the story again.
Perhaps the expert we should heed most on this topic is Jerry Seinfeld. Back when American men's remote-control habits were still seen as fresh fodder for comedians, I recall Seinfeld explaining, "Men aren't interested in what's on television. Men are interested in what else is on television."

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