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To Link or Not to Link, That is the Question

by Alan Sitomer
 | Oct 16, 2013

A love/hate reading relationship has formed between digital reading on tablets and moi. I dearly wish one side would just finally pummel the crud out of the other so that I could at long last jump on one side of the fence as to how I feel about these things and simply move on with my reading life.

Like William Tell, I cannot tell a lie: tablets are AWESOME! Then again, reading on them comes with a set of issues that are not only not going away, but are, in fact, amplifying with each new generation of device.

p: andyi via photopin cc

Reading on a tablet nowadays is akin to trying to count your profits after a long day at the lemonade stand while your annoying 8 year old little brother goes, “6, 11, 43, 12, 52” as you try to add up all the change. It’s inevitable that you are going to get distracted—that’s his entire goal—and have to double back and pick up the pieces from where your train of thought went off the rails.

Consider hyperlinks. For example, when reading an online article, do you click on the hyperlink that makes reference to something you know you want to read right at the very moment you come across the connection or do you wait until after you’re done with the entire piece to double back and go see where it was that the author was pointing you? Or do you skip it entirely? To do the former breaks the entire narrative flow of the piece you started, and even if the new link turns you on to a great piece of content, it’s also sabotaged your ability to coherently digest the mental meal author #1 wanted you to consume. On the other hand, if you wait until later to click, the narrative flow is still broken because you have to stop and give yourself a mental reminder, “Hey, remember to go back and click that – it looked interesting.”

Either way, as a reader you experience the mental phenomenon of, “Uhm, where was I?”

And if you skip it, you still paused to weigh whether or not you should bother with the hyperlink which—yep, you guessed it —also broke the flow of your reading. Our brains can’t multi-task in this manner. We can breathe and read but we can’t read and make navigatorial decisions about our reading and read.

Yes, I hyperlinked the word “navigatorial” just now. Why? Cause it’s a word I made up but it kinda seems like it should be a word—and there’s a word for words that might one day be words if someone starts to popularize them.

That word is neologism. I mention it because it prevents me (as the author) from having to hyperlink the above and yet still allows you, the reader, to stay within the text without having been transported to Goodness-Knows-Where on the Internet.

Quick question: Which do you prefer?

Of course, over the course of reading one or two pieces, perhaps this is not so bad. But if you do ALL of your reading on a tablet, this becomes something that actually nourishes non-stop stop-n-start, stop-n-start thinking. Sure, it’s challenging for me to maneuver this minefield of link after link after link with some of them of value and some of them just merely me horsing around, but consider for a moment that I am a digital immigrant. That means I’ve already had my brain developed in a physical, printed word world. Yet as we now see all the rage of outfitting students with tablets over printed books, is it just me or do others see that we might actually be nurturing partial attention deficit disorder?

In fact, its cultivation is perhaps even being assigned as homework!

Now add in the idea of emails, instant messaging, tweets, notifications, pins, racy YouTube videos, and so on when it comes to tablet reading and the question must be asked, “What kind of kiddie brain cocktail are we creating?”

And really, who’s immune? Question, did you click on the link where I mentioned “racy YouTube videos”? If not, did you make a mental note to click on it after? Even if the answer was “No and no” did you mentally find yourself saying, “I wonder where that link will take me”?

It took you to a cat video. Why? Because millions of hours of people’s lives have been devoted in the past decade to making and watching YouTube videos on funny things cats do.

Whodda thunk it?

I need to power down now. I want to love my tablet, but I can’t say I am all that fond of loving the potential consequences reading on tablets still has yet to bring.

Alan Lawrence Sitomer was California's Teacher of the Year in 2007. He is also the author of multiple works for young readers, including Nerd Girls, the Hoopster trilogy, THE SECRET STORY OF SONIA RODRIGUEZ, CINDER-SMELLA, and THE ALAN SITOMER BOOKJAM. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. In addition to being an inner-city high school English teacher and former professor in the Graduate School of Education at Loyola Marymount University, Alan is a nationally renowned speaker specializing in engaging reluctant readers who received the 2004 award for Classroom Excellence from the Southern California Teachers of English, the 2003 Teacher of the Year honor from California Literacy, the 2007 Educator of the Year award by Loyola Marymount University and the 2008 Innovative Educator of the Year from The Insight Education Group. A Fun Look at Our Serious Work appears quarterly on the Engage blog.

© 2013 Alan Sitomer. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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