Text articles such as this one may never be read to the end

By Ryan Thorpe Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/10 18:33:39

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Congratulations. You are reading this. Videos are available on the Internet, but you chose to read. While I am grateful that you decided to spend a few minutes to read my work, I would ask you to consider how it is that you stumbled upon this work. In a print newspaper? On the Web?

While contemplating the many ways people view my writings, I realized that the way news is viewed changes the way people interpret the news. The Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan might have been more accurate than he realized when he once said that "the medium is the message." In other words, the way information is absorbed changes the way information is interpreted.

McLuhan wrote this back in 1964, which makes me wonder what he would think of our global society's current App-obsessed culture. When I speak with friends about the way they consume news, they comment about this or that App that serves as a media aggregator, which is itself another medium.

An App is an insular experience in that it does not connect with the outside world. It serves as a funnel that limits the vast expanse of the Internet into a single portal with far fewer options. But it is not the process of collecting information that worries me; rather, it is the result that people are far more likely to read news that only appeals to them.

As a writing professor in Shanghai, I am very interested in the way people read texts. With modern Web analytics, researchers have learned much about the way people approach a text. According to stats, almost 40 percent of Web users "bounce" away from news articles, which means that after a user clicks on a story, they glance at the headline then move on to another article or site. Less than half will read even halfway through the article, let alone to its concluding paragraph.

For me, this information proves how McLuhan might find the medium of the Internet so interesting - where texts and pictures are consistently omnipresent. But I never really engaged in the image versus text debate. Like many people, I enjoy images, but I rarely considered their role as consumable content.

Recently I decided to build a new website, and I was amazed at how well the website editor knew which colors were complementary and which images would work best as banner images. It directed me to create smaller images to draw readers' attention to specific actions that I wanted them to take.

The website editor understood the power that images have in our daily lives. We interpret images 60,000 times faster than words, which makes a difference in terms of how these two media influence us. The impact can be seen in the emotions we feel, which are mitigated through mirror neurons in the brain. While these neurons respond to text, they are more sensitive to images.

As a writer, I often romanticize the nature of text. I imagine that writing can change and alter us, and while studies show that reading improves concentration, vocabulary and empathy, images and videos are simply better at drawing our attention.

I feel this push and pull when I speak with my Chinese students about how they want my lectures to be presented to them. When discussing how they approach their assignments, one student noted that "everything is done with my phone because my phone is the closest medium to me."

The Internet, with its multitude of images and texts, is here to stay. It isn't going anywhere, and maybe that is for the best. With articles layered on one another like a digital cake, they must compete for attention, and this has the potential to increase the quality of writing out there.

Reading is a battle for attention and understanding. Readers and writers have a tendency to get lazy at times, but the best writing can still touch a person without having to rely on imagery. With only words, it can inform, entertain and with a little luck, change those who read it.

So thank you for reading. Thank you for your attention. You are among the dedicated minority of readers who have made it to the end of a story.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.


blog comments powered by Disqus