Do the drop-down menu or Twitter widget to your left distract you from your reading? How about the animated banner ad at the top of the page? If you're reading this on a laptop or desktop, do you have 13 tabs open on your browser (as I do,) and are you likely to get an instant message or pop-up email alert in the next five minutes (as I am)?
If that's the case, there's a good chance you would retain more of what I'm about to tell you if you read this on your tablet or smartphone instead.
At least, that's one possible implication of a recent report, discussed[url=http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/11/how-we-read-not-what-we-read-may-be-contributing-to-our-information-overload/?utm_source=clippings.me+Subscribers&utm_campaign=6854ec98bf-The_Bulldog_1&utm_medium=email']in this article[/url] on the Nieman Journalism Lab website:
The study, “News and the Overloaded Consumer: Factors Influencing Information Overload Among News Consumers” ... surveyed more than 750 adults on their digital consumption habits and perceptions of information overload. On the central question of whether they feel overloaded with the amount of news available, 27 percent said “not at all;" everyone else reported some degree of overloaded.
(The authors) asked about the use of 15 different technology platforms and checked for correlation with feeling overloaded with information. Three showed a positive correlation as predictors of overload: computers, e-readers, and Facebook. Two showed a negative correlation: television and the iPhone. The rest — which included print newspapers, Twitter, iPads, netbooks, and news magazines, among others — showed no statistically significant correlations.
The findings suggest the news platforms a person is using can play a bigger role in making them feel overwhelmed than the sheer number of news sources being consumed, the Nieman article concluded.
This has great portend -- and presents an opportunity -- for the newspaper industry. Traditional media companies, mine included, are eager to develop new mobile apps and streamline their mobile websites as more readers use their smartphones, tablets and other mini devices to access content.
And with good reason.
Just last week, for example, I told you about an online conversation on the Poynter Institute website detailing the strong attachment users have for their smartphones and tablets — an attachment so strong, some folks sleep with their devices.
Recent research further suggests the experience of reading on a mobile device is more tactile and intimate, which print devotees certainly can relate to. Readers typically are presented with one piece of content at a time; even where that is not the case, tools such as Flipboard work because they organize and declutter content from social media and other sources in a more visually pleasing format. The newspaper industry is taking note -- and turning its attention to the mobile-device experience -- for instance, by streamlining and de-cluttering what users see on smaller screens.
But the trend toward mobile devices has even deeper implications for news consumption, I believe.
As the Nieman Journalism Lab article I referenced earlier suggests, new devices aren't just changing what we read; they're changing when and where we read, too. This is particularly true of "news junkies," who fill their spare time waiting in line at the coffee shop, deboarding a plane or, ahem, even using the privy reading from their mobile devices.
So as readers are presented cleaner content on devices that already strip away much irrelevant information, those readers also are consuming in smaller chunks. Although I'm among those who have bemoaned the supposed short attention span of young readers, there could be an upside to such reading patterns. To wit: Some research into reading comprehension indicates that reading in small chunks and giving the brain a chance to file away the new information enhances understanding and retention.
If this is the case, then news-gatherers who work to improve the content they provide to mobile readers are poised for a new era of influence.
And readers' smartphones really might make them smarter.