A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Connecting With the Non-Linear, Hyperlinked, Multitasking Brain

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

There’s growing evidence that our fast-paced, interconnected world – particularly the digital information world of nearly limitless choices most of us live in – are fundamentally rewiring our brain.

Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, contends that the distractions that we think we’re effortlessly filtering out when we read online not only slow us down, but lower our comprehension and retention.

And it’s not just things like flashing ad graphics and sidebar video clips, but simple text links that have an effect.

Online communications has to take this into account. And while we can’t force our audience to shut down their email programs, log off of Facebook and Twitter, and silence their smartphones when they’re reading our words, we can make it easier for them to grasp what we’re offering.

  • Be brief
  • Be interesting
  • Be sure to keep on-screen distractions in proportion to the content being presented

For that last one, the goal is to decrease distractions the deeper into a subject you get. So an overview page on your website can have a full complement of sidebars and come-ons, but as visitors explore the topic more fully – which indicates a greater interest – make it easier for them to stay focused by keeping these deep, topic-specific pages clutter-free.

It would be interesting to see a study on the relative effect on comprehension between an article with traditional in-line hyperlinked text and one with old fashioned footnotes, where the footnote links are listed at the bottom of the screen. Any thoughts on which make understanding easier?

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