Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Reading in F and it's challenges to literature online

Have you ever thought about the structure of the page? No? Neither had I until recently. Many people take the page for granted, not recognising the centuries of work which have gone into its creation. The digital page,  if it can even be called that, is no different. The main contrast between the two can be argued as the rapid development of the digital space of the page. I am becoming increasingly interested in how the digitised world is changing many of the constructs which we do not give much thought to within the Humanities.

With these rapid developments come problems. Jakob Nielsen has changed my views upon the digital page. He argues that people do not read an online page, for example a website, in the complete fashion in which we read a page from a book. We now read in an"F shape". Examples of this F shape can be seen below.

Christi O'Connell summarises this idea in her article Eye Tracking and Wesbite Design:
Nielsen’s (2006) eye tracking research has demonstrated that users read web content in an F-shaped pattern. The F-shape reading pattern refers to the viewing order: users start by reading across the top line and then look down the page a little and read across again and then continue down the left side.

Rather than taking in every piece of information, we now scan the page for what we perceive to be relevant, giving little attention to particular data on the page, such as information on the right hand side, corners and the bottom of the page. My concerns for this type of reading, which I myself am guilty of, are its impact upon digitised literature in particular. Will we absorb a book that we read on the web in the same fashion as we scan a web page, simply picking out what is relevant? Although it is necessary to filter information when using the web, so as not to become overwhelmed by information, could this be detrimental to how we analyse the text of a literary work? 

As the internet progresses, I perceive that eventually it will be more common and feasible for many people to do most of their reading online. However, coming from an English literature background in which the physical book is sacred, it upsets me slightly to imagine this. However, this generates many problems for the effectiveness of close textual analysis, if we continue to develop these habits of overlooking the full structure of 'the page'. This threatens the very core of literary analysis. Therefore, I challenge you all to break this habit, to some degree, myself included, and see how much more resourceful we can make our readings on the web.After all, you wouldn't read a physical book in this fashion, so why would you read a digital page like this? On a side note, I do take into account that some pages often require us to overlook information or we would be there for hours. But in an academic context, we could stand to gain from taking a closer look at the digital page.

My second concern for the page is that we will lose our sense of the identity of the physical page through increasing digitisation. Although I believe that this is the only way forward in terms of making knowledge more accessible to the masses, I fear that the structure of out traditional page will soon be forgotten. Even as a I write this I am aware that I am using a digital tool, the blog, a relatively new form of displaying text, to voice these concerns. My only hope is that the reader does not scan this blog in the 'F shape' which Nielsen speaks of.

These are just some of my own concerns for increasing digitisation of the aforementioned page. However, the 'pros' definitely outweigh the 'cons' in terms of research prospects and the increasing availability of valuable knowledge in this global space. It is up to the global online community to read in a more attentive manner, and to truly value the space of the page which is put in front of us all.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps we need to push the content to the right hand side of the website!

    On a serious note, the best thing about living at the start of the 21st century is the opportunity to witness the evolution of our interaction (both good and bad) with texts. As you mentioned, accessibility is the way forward with these texts. However, while we are lucky enough to experience this moment in history and there are also benefits to scanning a page for important points, particularly when it comes to reading extensive amounts of information, I would also agree that it is vital that we do not grow a tradition of new bad habits. This is particularly significant in terms of our Moodle discussions regarding the movement to redesign education. It would make anyone shudder to think of these habits becoming a traditional approach.