FOULDS: Not to boar you, but...

There are many studies that examine the benefits that can be derived from the growing practise of skim-reading — the opposite of deep reading, during which the brain commands the eyes to scan an article, seeking out keywords in an effort to understand the context in as short a time as possible.

Skim-reading, or scanning, has grown in popularity in lockstep with the growth of information in the digital age.

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With so much information and so much news — misleading and otherwise — available amid all the scrolling, coupled with the fact we are only getting busier as technology becomes more complex, skim-reading becomes almost essential in finding and retaining pertinent information.

Some might consider it a necessary evolutionary survival skill in the 21st century.

But there are drawbacks, not the least of which is that skim-reading can leave you reading a news story and coming to the bizarre conclusion that the local newspaper decided to equate customers at the mall food court to four-legged barnyard animals with telltale snouts and an affinity for wallowing in mud.

Confused? So was I when a reader contacted KTW this week, disappointed that we would dare to label hungry patrons of the soon-to-be expanded food court at Aberdeen Mall as “pigs.”

For the record, we did no such thing, a fact that would have been evident to the reader had he actually read the entire news story.

The article, written by reporter Sean Brady, revealed the ambitious plan by Aberdeen Mall to expand its food court and welcome new tenants to the space formerly occupied by Sears.

The most newsworthy part of the story was the food court’s expansion and the mall’s zero-waste initiative — hence the reference to pigs.

Here’s the opening line — or lede, as we refer to in the newspaper business: “Renovations at the food court in Aberdeen Mall will bring more eateries, more space — and divert more food to local pigs.”

It’s a catchy lede and deliberately so. The intent is to grab a reader’s attention and draw them further into the story.

A mere four paragraphs and 125 words later is the revelation that the mall is trying to divert all customers’ leftover food from going to the landfill and has already been sending the scraps to a local farmer, who feeds the food to his pigs.

So, no, KTW was definitely not referring to food court fans as even-toed ungulates.

But we may be guilty of inadvertently diverting shortened attention spans to erroneous conclusions.

I trust most readers practised patience, kept reading all 566 words in the story and came away with some new information on entrepreneurship and ecology in the local marketplace. Based on the busy discussion of the article on KTW’s Facebook page, I think most readers did indeed forgo skim-reading and properly perused the article.

Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist, author and an expert on the study of reading, was quoted in a 2014 Washington Post article on the effect online scanning has on serious, deep reading: “The brain is plastic its whole life span. The brain is constantly adapting.”

But how should we adapt to this headline-grabbing, clickbait-luring world that seems to be literally changing the way our brain works?

Do we wave the proverbial white flag and cater to the onslaught of attention deficit and the problems it can create? Or do we rage against the 140-character conversation and fight for a slow reading revolution, stealing from the menu of the burgeoning slow food movement?

It may be possible to do both — retain our love of language, of wordplay, of a rich turn of phrase, while remaining cognizant to be as clear as possible for the skimmers among us, which is why the lede has been altered slightly online.

We need not be pigs about it. There may be room for both styles of devouring information in the reading troughs of life.
Twitter: @ChrisJFoulds

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