We live in an age where we are overloaded with information. In his excellent book called ‘The Shallows – How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember’ Nicholas Carr suggests that we are spending less time on in-depth reading in favour of power-browsing and power-scanning. He suggests that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of reading. Whereas we used to scan information so that we could determine what it was we wanted to find out more about, we now find that scanning is becoming our preferred way gathering and making sense of information.
As we live in such a busy world it is easy to see why people will tend to grab a headline and maybe the first line of a story in between checking their e-mails, tweeting and sending a quick text message. The problem is that it would be very easy to make some sort of sense of that information without going deeper into it and getting a fuller picture. An example of this is the following headline from a newspaper this weekend, ‘Teachers blamed for illiteracy’ – the first part of the article was, “The failure to teach reading properly, rather than poverty or ethnic backgrounds of pupils, is to blame for stubbornly high levels of illiteracy. One in five pupils leave primary education unable to read and write …….” The newspaper article in itself is a shortened and headline grabbing version of a fuller government report. To the people scanning it the chances are it gets shortened, distorted once more. You can imaging conversations at the school gate, “Have you heard the latest? Apparently 20% of the children in this school can’t read and write when they go to the High School! I blame the teachers. All this modern teaching stuff and not enough homework. They are too soft these days, I think they should bring back the cane, did me no harm when I was that age!”
Some other interesting headlines from the last few weeks include, ‘PSE in the morgue and Eng. Lit. under the driers’ followed by the first line of the article, “Children attending new ‘free schools’ could be taught in pubs, undertakers, pet shops and hair dressing salons…” Just imagine how that information will be interpreted and shared! You could imagine people wandering around with an image of a child doing his maths at the bar with a pint of bitter in his hand, or someone else lying full stretch in a coffin writing a poem!
Or this headline, ‘Government to monitor nations happiness’ – with the first line of the article being, “The government is preparing to officially measure the happiness of Britons…” The words ‘officially measure’ will give this credence in some people’s minds. Will some local official come round to your house to do the measuring? What if he catches you on a bad day when you are feeling anything but happy? What happens if you fail the test, will you have to go on a special course to learn how to be happy, in a room full of miserable people?
My favourite headline of the week has to be, ‘How cats drink without getting their chins wet’ followed by the first line – “Researchers spent three years working out how cats can drink milk while keeping their chins dry”. Three years being paid to watch cats drink milk!! Now I bet that’s a group of very happy people.