Have you ever thought of how you go about reading links in a blog-post or a web-page? A recent posting on Sue Waters' enviably informative site impresses me by advising bloggers to cite relevant information using links (hyperlinks), as long as it doesn’t mean going hyper with a fan of links. I go along with her reasoning. I also find comfort that she (a scientist after all!) is as fond of a fan of links in a post as I am.
Links in a post can be extremely useful. They can put you in touch with people you didn't know existed. They can also keep you up to date with things perhaps you should know about.
Most recently, there seems to have been an increase in the attention given to the ‘cognitive overload’ that accompanies sifting through burgeoning masses of information online – the dizzy headaches – the hazy eyes – the lack of concentration – the spinning head.
These symptoms are exactly what I experience when I visit a fan of links, one after the other, while also trying to follow the highbrow train of thought of the blogger who posted them. Following up a fan of links baffles me! Link becomes a four-letter word.
Decision making can be exhausting:
Making decisions can tire the brain, apparently. But making decisions is exactly what you have to do while sweeping through a bevy of links, skimming through the accompanying articles as you go. When I do this, my brain constantly has to come up with yes/no answers to a fan of questions:
- Is this information going to be any use to me?
- Should I know this?
- Is it going to be any use to someone else?
- Could this be useful for my students, say?
- Should they know this?
- Is what I’m reading important enough to come back to?
- What’s it got to do with what the writer’s saying anyway?
One method I’ve used is to ignore the links altogether, at least in the first read. I bash on with what’s in the post or article to try and make some sense of it. This sometimes works.
But if there’s essential information cited through links, especially early in the text, and I know nothing about that stuff, I’m sunk. My brain runs out of steam when following the rest of what's there to read. My understanding wobbles. I effectively go nowhere when I try to continue reading.
I’ve then got to stop, retrace, and do some homework on the content in the links. This procedure is irksome, frustrating in the extreme, probably because by that time, I’ve got the old cognitive overload syndrome. Again. My head starts spinning.
There have been several postings recently on writing for skimming, notably Tony Karrer's, and there is certainly room for improvement in the way material is presented to reader/learners. But the need for the reader/learner to improve skills and strategies for coping with floods of new information is also becoming a major priority in the workplace.
But what's the best way of tackling a fan of links? If you have any thoughts on this, strategies or practices that you could share, please let me know. My head hurts.