Published on July 1st, 2012 | by Steven Hodson


Hi, My Name Is Steven And I Am A Skimmer

There is no doubt that we are living in an interesting time where information is constantly flowing by us at ever increasing amounts and ever increasing speed. Never before in the history of man have we ever been able to know about events, both mundane and important, almost as quickly as they are happening.

Keeping Up With The Flow

As both a digital curator and technology writer I see this happening every minute of my day. My RSS feeds are constantly being updated with fresh information within minutes of it originally hitting the web. Things like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ increase that information flow to a minute by minute flood that can make one feel like they are floundering and doing a dog-paddle in a sea of bytes just to keep afloat.

This dog-paddling is only going to get worse because it seems that all those providers of our daily influx of information want to continue to up the information ante by bringing us even more and delivering it even faster.

There is the old adage that information is power but the corollary of that might also be t hat too much information is intimidating and can bring about a desensitization of information worth.

When Reading Was A Love Affair

For as long as I can remember I have had a love affair with books – the real paper ones – and also for long interesting thought pieces. I grew up in a home where our livingroom’s one wall was a complete bookcase from floor to ceiling and there were still books throughout the house, fight for equal space with a gut of news magazines. For me books and magazines were an escape and a way to constantly be learning and expanding my imagination.

Those books are now long gone but my love of reading has never changed, my love of being challenged has never changed, and neither has my desire to have my imagination constantly challenged. However, what has changed for me, and a lot of people I know, is the massive amount of information flooding our senses daily and also – time.

But human beings are pretty incredible because we always seem to be able to find someway to improve ourselves, or perhaps change ourselves, so that we can deal with assaults to our senses such as our current flood of information.

In this case it is a pretty simple solution – we become skimmers.

When Everything Just Becomes A Blur

I actually first really notice this a little while ago when I was relaxing and reading a book I had wanted to read when I realized after the first 20 or 30 pages that I only really remembered the first few pages, the remaining read pages had become a blur.

At some point I had unconsciously switched from being an involved reader enjoying an interesting book into a skimmer who was skipping first paragraphs and then pages because I wanted to get on to the next stream of information that I just knew was waiting for me to catch a hold of.

Then I discovered the same thing was happening when watching television with my wife. I was looking for the fast forward button so that I could skip over the parts that I thought were boring or they just weren’t registering. It has gotten to the point where I would prefer to either download or stream my favorite television shows because between the asinine amount of commercials and uneven quality of the shows I find it less painful to skim through them.

Where The Size Of The Bite Matters

Where once I enjoyed nothing more that sitting back and reading (and writing) long form thought type of things I found myself becoming glassy-eyed after the first couple of paragraphs. I found myself wanting to hit the next button or the fast forward button more and more.

Don’t get me wrong, I still really like long form posts and occasionally writing them but more and more it is all about the small graphically enhanced bite of information. When I first started blogging I believed in the long form posts – check my archives at Shooting at Bubbles or some of the older posts at Winextra – and truly believe that they are both important and serve a very distinct need however, I have also seen over the years that this is becoming less and less of a requirement for creating and consuming content, regardless of whether it is video or the written word.

Even worse I see this same type of attitude becoming the norm in our standard media from television to newspapers and magazines.

It is becoming the smaller the better and really the majority of the time there isn’t any really information being shared. In this world of “Likes” and “Shares” the more superficial the better which is why things like memes are so popular and go “viral”.

Getting Smarter – Really?

One of the claims of proponents of this snack-sized information world is that this type of fly-by consumption is going to make us smarter but I have to seriously question this assumption, and not just from general observation but also from personal experience.

The human mind is only capable of absorbing so much at any one given time and even though we may be able to improve our comprehension of what we are reading or seeing to a certain point there will come a point where all intents and purposes it becomes white noise … a blur.

This is why we have seen a proliferation of short chunk style blog posts becoming the norm on the web the problem is that you can’t share any real valuable information in 300 words or less, regardless of the number of reference links those posts may hold.

So we might be consuming more information on the surface but the reality is that in the vast majority of cases we are getting far less valuable information that we can use to achieve that goal of making ourselves smarter.

Content Is King – But Only If It Is Short

Don’t get me wrong, there is a value to short form posts especially if we are just looking to fill a blank five minutes while we are in between doing other things. It would also have a value if we used these short form posts and quickie videos as jumping points to find out more information but human beings at their heart are lazy beings and once we finish with one thing we rush off to the next, even if there is a neon sign saying more information over here.

Content of value is being replace by content of superfluous value and we gladly go along because there is too much information out there knocking at our door demanding to be read or viewed; and we just don’t have the time to invest any more in sitting down and giving our full attention to anything.

Did You?

So did you make it to end?

Did you glaze over after the second paragraph?

Do you have the time to become involved and agree or disagree with what was written here?

Or are you like me and have become a skimmer?



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About the Author

Steven has been around the tech world long enough to see most of the stuff we think of cool happen before which leads to a certain bit of cynicism that has contributed to him being known as the cranky old fart of the Internet. Besides sharing some of the goodness that he finds with you here at 42x you can also find him curating some digital goodness at Winextra (tech type stuff) and Rotten Gumdrops (for your daily dose of WTF).

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