Reading in the digital era

oldnick's picture

Perhaps for the first time, we can see the changes as they happen, and advance into them or retreat from them with an understanding of what is taking place.

Therein lies the problem: seeing is not necessarily understanding. Thomas Starr King once observed that the difference between a wise man and an ignorant one is that, while the latter only sees what is happening, the former understands what is happening. In other words, information doesn’t always translate into knowledge, much less wisdom.

Richard Fink's picture

Chris, I have not clicked the link as yet. Is this a joke?
As if understanding the world was the natural order of things. Wow.

Richard Fink's picture

Ok, I'm reading it, it's not a joke, but I clicked the back button 'cause you're just the man I wanted to speak to.

Is there any research to your knowledge which focuses on vertical space and readability?
By vertical spacing I mean gaps. I mean all the variations in "whitespace" used in a running column of text.
Yes, "leading" - and it's HTML equivalent "line-height" - would qualify but also things like the distance between sections of text - like the distance between a heading and the last paragraph of the previous section. And the space between the heading and the first paragraph - that kind of thing.

quadibloc's picture

Well, if you see what is happening, then at least it is possible for you to understand it. If, on the other hand, the changes come as a surprise that cannot be anticipated, then they cannot be understood before they happen.

However, I would criticize this position for being overly sanguine for an entirely different reason. If reading on display screens is "bad", and reading from paper is "good", making use of our understanding of this fact requires that we have a choice.

Thus, instead of noting the fallibility of human understanding, I would be more inclined to point out that we're running out of trees. (I suppose, though, that could be rebutted on the basis that if laser printers are "good enough", then so would be retina displays and e-ink and so on, as long as our "understanding" made us realize they were necessary for our brains to process type properly.)

EDIT: Reading the article, though, I see it's about content-related positives of the digital era, rather than typography-related negatives.

Chris Dean's picture

@Richard: Leading ? Tons. Is the science any good? Questionable. Space between paragraphs, headings, &c? Nothing springs to mind.

Nick Shinn's picture

The reading-age of inaugural presidential addresses (USA) has been progressively lowering since Lincoln. This trend is caused by the advance of technology, but not in a direct manner.

One would assume that longer sentences with more complex construction provide a more subtle and profound expression, communication and understanding of ideas.

But the hyperlinked hive mind, immanent in digital social media, with its wisdom of crowds, is a horse of a different color.

Richard Fink's picture

>@Richard: Leading ? Tons. Is the science any good? Questionable.
>Space between paragraphs, headings, &c? Nothing springs to mind.

Thanks. What's prompting the question is newefangled web design I'm seeing lately that has, to my eye, huge gaps between sections, and/or headings and sections, and it effects the flow of reading because it throws relatedness into doubt.

I mean, if you picked up a newspaper and there was a three inch gap below a headline before the body copy began, you'd think WTF? You'd assume it was some kind of missprint, a typo. You might even have to look back up at the headline to refresh yourself and get your bearings back.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I just wanna know who ever said we had some kind of ability to understand the world in the analog era

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