People’s attention spans seem to be getting shorter. Too many things to see. Too many things to read. All these visuals coming at you at once.
When I was in school, textbooks had a few photos, charts, and graphs, but mostly I read page upon page of straight text.
In total contrast to this, I found a fascinating print book at the thrift store this week. It’s essentially a sociology textbook for those who have already graduated (laypeople rather than students). And it does a masterful job of visually organizing a vast number of complex topics into timelines, charts, and bite-size chunks of text. Exactly the way we consume material on the internet. Visually and spatially.
The book is entitled The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained, and it was curated (edited, compiled) by the following contributors: Christopher Thorpe, Chris Yuill, Mitchell Hobbs, Megan Todd, Sarah Tomley, and Marcus Weeks.
The Key Is the Visuals
Since graduating from college, I’ve learned more about things I didn’t study in school than things I did. Everything from economics to history, to all the other subjects I avoided. In the last 40 years these subjects have become interesting to me because they have become relevant to my daily life. There are probably many other people out there who could say the same thing.
In those 40 years (and before), experts have learned a lot about how people consume and master information on new subjects. In addition, between the ‘90s and the present, the internet has created a shift in how people consume content from a linear reading style to a more random, or at least spatial, approach that favors images, video, sounds, and short chunks of copy (such as bulleted lists).
This is not to say that “long-form” (the current name) journalism and literature have disappeared. The more spatial way of consuming information (like jumping around among a stack of books collecting facts and quotes for a term paper) has just grown exponentially in part because of our exposure to the internet.
The other point to consider is that you can consume and retain information more efficiently if it is presented in an organized manner. When you see how large concepts are connected, you can understand them and remember them better.