Reading in the Modern Age

Great writing by Nicholas Carr on how the Internet affects reading.

I cannot help but answer with Rob Weatherhead’s article Say It Quick, Say It Well – The Attention Span of a Modern Internet Consumer published on www.theguardian.com. Rob Weatherhead is digital operations director at MediaCom. His following article is a professional reference about efficient advertisement and website construction techniques for the modern salesman.

“Media organizations must adapt to cater for a generation of internet consumers who expect ‘instant gratification and quick fixes.’

(…) A 2011 AOP website usage study showed that a UK internet user visited 2518 web pages across 81 domains and 53 sessions in November 2011. (…) This is great for web based businesses as it means their audience is (…) reachable 24/7. Whereas previously you may have been relying on key consumption times when people were able to be sat at their computer, now you have a consumer who you can reach with your product all through the day.

This always on world (…) has significant implications for the modern day consumers attention span. It has even greater implications for the generation of people who have never known anything but high speed broadband and internet access, the future adult consumer. A recent Pew Internet study in the US suggests that while students coming through the schools system in this always on world benefit from instant access to a wealth of information from numerous sources, their attention span and desire for in depth analysis is consequently diminished. The current generation of internet consumers live in a world of ‘instant gratification and quick fixes’ which leads to a ‘loss of patience and a lack of deep thinking.’

wpid-thumbnail-77d3576114a783830ba8acfb2c4fa3452In a world of instant gratification and where an alternative website is just a mouse click away website owners need to find ways to firstly grab attention of a user, and then keep it for long enough to get your message across.

(…) So what rules should the modern day publisher or website owner be following when structuring their web pages in a world of short attention spans?

Don’t make people wait for the information – (…) you need to make sure the page loads as quickly as possible. Studies have shown that 32% of consumers will start abandoning slow sites between one and five seconds. Bounce rate can be improved by up to 30% with the reduction of page size and resulting speed improvements. A one second delay in page load time can result in 11% fewer page views, 16% decreased customer satisfaction and 7% lost conversions.

Include key information upfront and begin with the end in mind (…). By including key information up front you can convince the user to read on rather than exit to another information source.

Use bullet points for key facts (…) to make them stand out  and be easily digestible – a well-known method for making key information easy to locate and eye catching (…).

(…) [E]nable users to jump to the appropriate section if they wish – the modern day consumer will scan a page to try and pick out the piece of information they are looking for. (…)

Keep page content short and punchy and split any detailed content out into secondary pages if applicable – with limited attention span and desire for instant gratification of the modern day internet consumer just seeing the scroll bar shrink into oblivion can be enough for them to not even start reading a page. If you have lots of content on a subject split it out into relevant, easily digestible pages that allow people to read one piece without necessarily having to continue on to the next.

Use rich media and alternative content presentation to keep users’ attention – the use of video as an online communication medium is well documented. But also think about (…) images, graphs and other visual forms. Novelty and the presentation of something that is new and unexpected is one of the key elements of the Reticular Activation System (RAS) which focuses attention. Playing to this trigger (…) will help you get your message across effectively.

Present information in a logical, sequential pattern – another element of RAS, (…) a logical sequence helps to keep the attention of the user and allows you to take them through some logical steps to conclusion and get all of your key points across.

Tell the reader what they need, and want to know, and no more (…). You want to tell a consumer, or prospect, everything they need to know (…). (…) [G]et them to this point and present them with the option to purchase. If you are producing information give them all the top line stats they need to get your message across, and leave anything supplementary for those that chose to find it.

(…) [O]nce (…) given the user all the reasons they should purchase your product, make it clear where they need to go next. (…) [H]ave the reader hooked (…) a user goes from intention, through to action. (…) [P]resent the user with easy routes through to conversion once they are convinced they should buy from you. (…)

Almost all analytics providers will provide you with data on bounce rates, pages visited, time on site, time on page and many other measures you can use to optimise your approach to content. The leading providers will also show you where users clicked within a page or where their mouse hovered giving you further indication of what they were looking at and how you can tailor your pages accordingly. There are numerous free tools you can use such as Google’s site speed tool which can help you understand where you may not have optimal performance.

By using all of the tools at your disposal and following the rules above you should be able to cater for the always on generation and prosper in this modern day world of low attention spans.”

How does all of this relate to Carr’s article?

Mr. Carr: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words.”

Mr. Weatherhead: “Keep page content short and punchy and split any detailed content out (…)”.

Mr. Carr: “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.”

Mr. Weatherhead: “[E]nable users to jump to the appropriate section if they wish – the modern day consumer will scan a page to try and pick out the piece of information they are looking for.”

Mr. Carr: “Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or more pages.”

Mr. Weatherhead: “[W]ith limited attention span and desire for instant gratification of the modern day internet consumer just seeing the scroll bar shrink into oblivion can be enough for them to not even start reading a page.”

Mr. Carr: “[W]hat the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.”

Mr. Weatherhead: “[F]irstly grab attention of a user, and then keep it for long enough to get your message across.”

Mr. Carr: “Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be (…) watching videos and listening podcasts, or just tripping from link to link.”

Mr. Weatherhead: “Use rich media and alternative content presentation to keep users’ attention – the use of video as an online communication medium is well documented.” “A 2011 AOP website usage study showed that a UK internet user visited 2518 web pages across 81 domains and 53 sessions in November 2011.”

So is this what we are? Consumers, much more than human beings? Are we starting to become dulled vending and buying machines, sellers and consumers, providers and users, guiding collectors and guided payers, a flock successfully led towards the financial slaughterhouse? Am I insane by wondering about happiness, wisdom, humanism, love and spiritualism? Am I insane if I set up a tight connection between this profit oriented, selling-buying social model, and an evident spiritual vacuum, the obvious lack of inner peace in modern man’s self?

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