Reading and the Distractions of Hyperlinked Web

I am an avid reader. But I need a perfect setting, quiet ambience to read. I cannot read if I am famished. I cannot read if there is noise. I avoid reading in a moving bus or train (it’s not good for your eyes). On weekends, I pull the card out of the set top box and hide it somewhere so that no one can switch on the TV at home. So many potential distractions I need to take care of. But guess what: internet is not one of them.

Many people blame the internet for disrupting their reading, including scholars and journalists, whose livelihood depends on the very act. They cite social media and hyperlinks as two main distractions. Sure, the notification bar that sites like Facebook and Twitter have, can act as a constant source of agitation. Facebook’s red balloon demands instant attention, and when there is no new notification, we subconsciously await its appearance, causing mild anxiety and loss of concentration. On the other hand, hyperlinks lure us to go on a clicking frenzy and to hop from one page to another. And sometimes hopping is all we end up doing.

But there is a major difference between distractions such as your family members talking while you are reading and the distractions like social media and hyperlinks. The first is an external distraction, the latter is not. Social media and hyperlinks are psychological distractions; in other words they test your self-control. You can easily avoid these distractions if you train yourself to do so.

Here is what I do. When I open my browser, I first check all my social media feeds. Then I complete other tasks on my list, like mailing ebooks to a friend or paying phone bill or ordering pizza. After all this is done, I get on to the act of reading. Actually it’s social media sites like Facebook and Twitter which most of the times point me to interesting articles. But I keep their tabs closed when I am reading a long article. And while reading on my Kindle, I keep the internet on my mobile phone off. I end up reading a lot more on web than on paper, and as attentively. There is no loss in retention or comprehension, contrary to what the findings of umpteen surveys carried out in the US say.

I am not saying it’s entirely your fault that internet is making you a less efficient reader. But the web is not a newspaper or a book. It is not designed solely for passive reading. So it is grossly unfair to compare paper with screen without understanding their nature. If we understand what causes us to get distracted, it’s much easier to counter it — be it while reading on paper or screen.

2 thoughts on “Reading and the Distractions of Hyperlinked Web

  1. I can read anywhere. Bus, on the sofa, around chatter, long distance train, waiting for long distance train, sleeping in long distance train, on my phone, on my Kindle, at my desk, while I am eating. Anytime.

    I’m not a purist.

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