Beyond treating individual letters as physical objects, the human brain may also perceive a text in its entirety as a kind of physical landscape. When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in which meaning is anchored to structure. The exact nature of such representations remains unclear, but they are likely similar to the mental maps we create of terrain—such as mountains and trails—and of man-made physical spaces, such as apartments and offices. Both anecdotally and in published studies, people report that when trying to locate a particular piece of written information they often remember where in the text it appeared. We might recall that we passed the red farmhouse near the start of the trail before we started climbing uphill through the forest; in a similar way, we remember that we read about Mr. Darcy rebuffing Elizabeth Bennett on the bottom of the left-hand page in one of the earlier chapters.
In most cases, paper books have more obvious topography than onscreen text. An open paperback presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left and right pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself. A reader can focus on a single page of a paper book without losing sight of the whole text: one can see where the book begins and ends and where one page is in relation to those borders. One can even feel the thickness of the pages read in one hand and pages to be read in the other. Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there’s a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text.
In contrast, most screens, e-readers, smartphones and tablets interfere with intuitive navigation of a text and inhibit people from mapping the journey in their minds.” —
Scientific American explores the reading brain in the digital age. Also see the death of the book through the ages, the publishing world on future of print and writers on the future of books. (via explore-blog)
This is such an interesting take on what it means to read, and what our brains do to anchor what we’ve read - perhaps the pages actually do matter? What does this mean for ebooks, or even reading on our laptops? What other physical signposts do we have?
So many of our boundaries have been broken by this age of technology. danah boyd explored how this relates to public events and public people, even in the relatively small world of geeks and techies in her post, Mourning and Public-ness. Please read it if you get the chance. It is a wonderful meditation on finding a safe place online and off.
Which brings me to that question, where are the safe places in this brave new world? When the web was born and internet forums were initially gathering places free from trolls and search engines, there was a boundary, a virtual anonymity. danah talks about some of those places being the forums that allowed her to find answers to some of her own questions, that gave her a caring community to be herself. She can’t find that place anymore. Part of that has to do with her notoriety, but I’m not sure she would have an easier time now if she was relatively less well known.
The notion that privacy will die, that our information will all be public one day, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg has famously talked about, disregards this deep human need to have a hiding place. After reading danah’s post, the Bob Dylan song “Shelter from the Storm” kept asserting itself in my brain, on a continuous loop. I’m not a Dylan devotee, so this was strange to me - that welcoming refrain was on repeat
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
We are all seeking that shelter. It can lead us to enlightenment. It can lead us to addiction. It can lead us to dependency. It can lead us to love.
My session at SXSW is all about Mobile’s Unmentionables. We are intimate with our phones, these constant companions and it is reflected in what we search for, what we seek on these devices. In health, STD’s, smoking, and mental health topics are the most sought after. People are seeking answers, trying to find a hiding place. Why wouldn’t they
turn to the closest object that provides a touch point, an opportunity for community, or perhaps just an non-judgmental first opinion?
Please join me, either in Austin or online, in taking this on.
There was record turnout among the young, 18-29 demographic in this year’s election. While 2008 also had high turnout, with 18% of the electorate between the ages of 18-29, it was assumed that there was less motivation and energy among that same demographic in 2012. Instead, 18-29 year olds comprised 19% of the electorate. (source - CS Monitor)
In 2008, 66% of this age group voted for President Obama, 31% for Senator McCain. In 2012, 60% voted for President Obama, versus 36% for Governor Romney. So while turnout was higher, certainly helping President Obama secure reelection, his share of the vote was actually lower.
What struck me about these statistics was not the voting split, but the increased turnout in what was assumed to be a more apathetic population. The youth wave of 2008 was decisive, a lead story coming out of the election. Despite higher turnout in 2012, few are pointing to this youth vote as the decisive factor. Indeed, there are other reasons, including the vote among Latinos and women, that account for Obama’s victory.
The sustained connection to this election is what fascinates me. President Obama’s campaign in 2008 drove the youth vote. He was an inspriring candidate to a generation that had grown up with a steady diet of George W. Bush. He was different, but by 2012, it was assumed that the novelty had worn off. So the engagement of this population has to come from somewhere other than mere enthusiasm or novelty. There has to be an anchor that brought even less enthusiastic or passionate supporters to wait in line and cast their votes. To my own biased eyes as a mobile developer, one need look no further than the devices that reside in almost every pocket in this demographic.
Mobile drives community, especially among those who own smartphones. 18-29 year olds are more connected, perpetually, to their peers and their community. 66% of 18-29 year olds own not just a mobile phone, but a smartphone (source - Pew Internet). Social media applications, a browser to view news and information, and the simplicity of SMS drive this connectivity.
Apathy can be driven by many factors, but chief among them is a feeling of isolation. Mobile doesn’t let that happen. Opting into the mobile community, even if it is just to check Facebook messages, is an antiseptic for apathy, a hook of connection.
Many have pointed to mobile’s role in the Arab Spring, connecting factions of people in countries like Egypt and informing populations. While the impact of mobile in those countries is more pronounced, the events that unfold creating a more significant political change, mobile’s role as the primary driver of youth engagement in the past two elections is undeniable.
Mobile is a new medium, a shift in the way we consume information and connect with each other. More importantly, it is becoming a new way to identify ourselves as a part of a community and get timely and meaningful information about the world around us.
This is a sustainable trend now. Each successive generation will become connected and engaged via mobile in similar ways, while each generation that ages will already have mobile in their toolkit as a way to remain connected. Turnout and engagement should increase with each successive election, regardless of perceived apathy or enthusiasm.
Perhaps this trend is obvious to many, or even taken for granted. But it strikes me as fundamental. A societal undercurrent that makes everyone basically the same, regardless of their background, socio-economic status, race, religion, or any other demographic profile that makes us easier to count, categorize, or manage. Mobile erases those differences.
- Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
- Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
- Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
- In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”
- Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
More on the power of simple words.
It began with rain this year. Soaking, miserable rain that seemed to dampen the first two days of the experience. The Austin Convention Center was less full, and the bars and restaurants were just full, not completely-insanely-packed-with-a-line-extending-into-the-street full (which was nice for a change). Despite the rain, the content and presentations at SXSW 2012 rocked and I came away from the conference with two clear ideas for the next year, one for tech and one for health.
Let’s start with the tech (I’ll focus on health in part 2). I’ve been working on responsive design since Ethan Marcotte’s excellent article on A List Apart and his subsequent book. I am in the midst of a couple of projects using responsive design, with the microsite for the Facing AIDS project already completed. Other websites have embraced responsive design during that time and I have seen some great examples, but I wasn’t sure just how much the trend was being embraced.
SXSW 2012 will be remembered for me as the year of responsive design. Every tech or design presentation I attended mentioned it, embracing the practice not as a trend, but as a standard. This change affects everyone participating in the construction of a website: subject matter experts, content strategists, designers, information architects, front-end developers, and back-end developers.
Responsive design alters the way we approach each discipline in web development, as transformative as the transition from print to the web was for everyone, responsive design requires an equivalent shift in thinking and practice. Content must now be flexible. Sites must be able to pivot to accommodate each phone, tablet, or computer that sends an http request.
The explosion of device complexity began before the iPhone, but the iPhone brought that complexity mainstream. Made everyone pay attention until the iPad arrived and made designing for complexity essential.
Mobile web traffic (tablets and phones) will eclipse desktop traffic in the next 18 months. The tipping point is on the horizon (planning for it must start now) and responsive design is the best solution so far to manage the coming complexity. It is not a bullet-proof solution, but it is a solution that has been embraced by the standards-based web community. There is an infrasture in place that will drive innovation and best practices, making it a sustainable strategy. It won’t break everything in two years, in fact, I think it will make what we build now last longer.
SXSW 2012 applied the brick and mortar to the responsive design pillar for me, solidifying a foundation that had been set over the past year. Most of what I expect to do in the next couple of years will feature responsive design as a starting point.