Digital reading comprehension requires a tactile medium

March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Credit: Occoquan Paleotechnic

Hand axes ruled us for 1 million years. Then we spoke. Now computer screens daily refashion our world. But reading comprehension is best when your personal digital media device is a hands-on relationship.  

Our ancient ancestors made hand axes by cradling a stone in 1 hand and manipulating it with the other. The process required close involvement. It also required hand use. And so did fire making, sewing, etc. Such attention to detail relied on a specially evolved left-brain hemisphere. After 1 million years of hand-axe culture, we talked.

About 40 thousand years ago a part of the left-brain hemisphere began to recognize words well. And our new thinking system began just when the hand axe died out. Media theorist Marshal McLuhan stated: “Any innovation in technology modifies our relation to ourselves and to our bodies.” It’s possible a million-year-old relationship of hand axe manipulation flipped into complex speech. Comprehending words and comprehending tools both require a specialized left-brain hemisphere. And like tool  use, word-use may require hands.

Stimming is subconsciously using hands while using words while under stress. For example, people in awkward conversations fidget. Hair straightening, thumb twiddling, finger drumming, pencil tapping, doodling, spinning an object, and repetitive pulling on clothing can also be subconscious attempts to relieve word-stress through physical manipulation.

Reading long lines of text is like stimming because they both require words and even hands. Books get cradled, their pages felt, turned, and flipped. Newspapers get ruffled, folded, and held close. Even their smell can sooth. We get intimacy from using a medium we can firmly hold and study up close.

Credit: Sunshine music

Reading on a computer screen however is difficult because you don’t get a good enough tactile relationship: you can hold it but not well; you can’t easily flip pages, feel texture, or even smell it. Without hand involvement, mental stress from reading builds. We don’t like reading off mediums to which our bodies can’t form.

Accordingly, media theorist Marshal McLuhan stated:

“…the more frequently and fluently a medium is used, the more ‘transparent’ or ‘invisible’ to its users it tends to become…Indeed, it is typically when the medium acquires transparency that its potential to fulfill its primary function is greatest.”

Although a study found that reading comprehension with digital text is similar to reading comprehension with paper text, the study director declared:

“Almost all of the participants stated that they liked reading a printed book best,” and most importantly that reading print was more “comfortable.”

Since digital communication devices are hard to manipulate, words written for such media should be easy to comprehend because otherwise, no one will read much.



Wikepedia, Foxp2

Wikepedia, Origin of language

Marshal McLuhan



March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

By Callum Smith:

On computer screen reading comprehension, 1 concept per page is important because digital screens stimulate your right-brain hemisphere. Your right-brain hemisphere comprehends all written information at once, in an instant. Words on digital screens should therefore act like pictures. It’s a “poetic experience”. Here’s reasoning:

According to communications theorist Walter Ong, his following article, which I greatly edited for the purpose of this post, speaks of something he calls “poetic knowledge:

“…Imitation must have to do with form, and form is precisely that by which we know…material things…If we take the instance of a piece of music…and examine that which makes it a one thing, we find that…the wholeness and completeness of the work, is unexpressible in philosophical statement…The only way to know our concerto is to listen to it. What is true of music in this sense is true of all the other fine arts…The Greeks called what we call fine arts ‘imitative arts’…The work of fine art as we know it when we know it most thoroughly: to take a particular instance, that particular something that we take away with us from a performance of Othello and which we do not know from any other play, but from Othello alone.”

This thing is the very heart of the work…

“We must not allow our discussion to become entangled in the more proximate truths which the words of such a play represent to us: the truths of the individual judgments which make up the actors’ speeches, or even the truths which is the story itself, but we must cling to this deeper principle of unity which makes the work a one…’Poetic experience,…poetic knowledge that seems in immediate contact  with the real’…This thing which is the artistic whole,…is a thing which is originally met with in nature. From nature the same characteristic kind of knowledge is had…’Knowledge that seems in immediate contact with the real’…A thing constructed of a manifold of forms, a truth arising out of a richness of truths…The artist has deliberately catered to our capabilities and calculatingly seeks to bring out certain forms which he knows will produce the desired effect and to suppress others which are irrelevant…He judges by the effect and…whether the work is properly done or not…Of poetic knowledge of natural things there is a more than ordinary contact with truth…In poetic knowledge there is a single reality which is cognized…It is precisely this thing that is the imitation in the case of fine arts… (Ong)”

Web writing can be seen as a fine art because it speaks to the right-brain hemisphere; web writing is poetic; web writing is the HEART of the message.

I encourage you to read Walter Ong’s entire article, and then all his articles, because you’re interested in digital writing reading comprehension:


Ong, Walter, J., Imitation and the Object of Art

Learn to write online, an introduction

February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

By Callum Smith:

Writing and writing and writing does not make a good writer, at least not a good digital wordsmith. Writing teachers often say that to be a good writer, one must write a lot. They’ll say go home and write; write about anything; but just write. If you practice a bad habit over and over again, the bad habit, your newly developed bad habit, will be a part of you. You then should become a natural at displaying your bad habit, your awful nature. Recognizing and ridding your bad habit, consequently, may be stressful. Practicing digital writing should be a study of good digital writing, first.

To learn to communicate well with digitized words, a long, fun, and intelligent approach should do the trick. Good writing is a bag of tricks. Studying these tricks etc (1), studying basic human sociology in an online environment etc (2), and studying how digital screens per se affect human behavior etc (3), should promote proper web writing.

You may even then recognize that “writer” does not apply well, that “communicating with words” better describes this process. “Writing” might connote long lines; but “communicating with digital words,” or “digital wordsmithing,” etc, might better connote carefully selected objects, specifically placed, and for a specific purpose.

There is no place for pomp in an online environment. It’s not about the writer, their style, and a captive audience. Communicating with digitized words requires a tremendous feel for your readers, a freed public who knows they are in charge, who demands respect. Give your online tribe, those who follow your communicating, not what you want them to know, but what they really desire, for their plan-of-things.

It is difficult to trap people when they have choices. In a digital environment, you may see how “writer” could be replaced with something like “one who communicates with words, etc.”




On Writing Well, William Zinsser, 1976

The Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jr., 1918

Why your Web Content Must Adapt, Callum Smith, 2011

The Public and its Problems, John Dewey, 1927 (was available for free online at until recently, as it has mysteriously become unavailable. Book described how to ((in our now digitized era)) flatten our hierarchical government).

Violence and Identity, Lance Strate, 2011

RSS, life altering tool

February 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

By Callum Smith:

Advance with your industry’s latest tips, trends and techniques

RSS Readers are replacing newspapers because people want identity.
Your personalized reader delivers your industry’s progressions.
With that, you’ll realize, specialize, and authorize.



Benefits of staying ahead of the conversation:

  • the first to know
  • a consistent innovator
  • you as the authority

Increase your awareness with the free RSS environment, including blogs, videos, podcasts, newsletters, news-sites, etc…

Those information sources appear updated, all in 1 place:

RSS reader is a free software resembling an e-mail inbox-type layout.

Updated “feeds” are pulled into your reader, appearing as headlines that start at the top of your screen, only to move down when they become replaced by a relentless consistency of fresh content.

Just click any headline, and experience!

The RSS-supported service-environment comprises your reader, the informational “feed” sources, and your desire-for-knowledge.

An informavore with new insight, you might also create and publish your own ideas, thus becoming an authority.

Please experience following video suggesting how, theoretically, your life will change by using an RSS reader. The speaker is Professor Cory Anton of the Media Ecology Association, and the following video is from his personal website.

Right click and watch:

Felix Vargas at English Language Teaching/Learning (EFL) reposted my blog post

December 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Thank you to Felix Vargas at English Language Teaching/Learning (EFL) for re posting my blog post concerning computer screens affecting reading comprehension,

Why your web content must adapt

October 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

By Callum Smith:

Credit: Directory Journal

In comparison to your right brain, only your left brain hemisphere reads.

In comparison to paper texts, computer screens tire your left brain hemisphere.

You read less, therefore, of a web page’s words than a paper text’s words.


1.) Brain-hemisphere researcher Mike Gazzaniga stated after reviewing an experiment where a patient’s brain hemispheres were surgically separated:

Credit: Create Subliminal Messages

Since it is the  left hemisphere that normally posesses the natural language and speech mechanisms, all processes ongoing in the left hemisphere could easily be verbally described by the patients; information presented to the right hemisphere went undescribed.Review of the Split Brain, in The Human Brain, M.C. Wittrock, p. 91.

Only your left brain, therefore, reads.

2.) Computer-screen resolution frequency slows left-hemisphere-produced brain waves, resulting in right-hemisphere dominance, and thus poor reading comprehension.

Credit: Phun with Physics

A 1969 experiment by Herbert Krugman proved it, seen in a decent summary  here.

Computer screens, therefore, weaken your reading comprehension.

3.) As a result, people read only 20% of a web page’s words, proved by infrared-eye-tracking technology.


Results of the study by Usability guru Jakob Nielsen can be seen here.

You therefore read a small fraction of an average web page’s words.



You read less of a web page’s words than a paper text’s words because computer-screen resolution slows your logical left-brain thinking.

But if you were a test subject and told to read a lot of digital content for an experiment funded by a marketing and e-reader software company trying to prove to the public and investors that

there are no disadvantages to reading from electronic reading devices compared with reading printed texts,

you would read it all. You as a test subject would give the required effort and understand it all, no matter how discouraging it seems. But the before mentioned experiment, in its context, was not reality.

In the real world you would more likely have either went to another website or gave it a very brief scan because electronic reading devices require more human effort than does paper:

Almost all of the participants stated that they liked reading a printed book best,

stated a director and designer of the study.

Imagine walking on a flat surface and suddenly appears a hill. Walking it requires greater effort, so you investigate alternate routes. It’s like reading web material. The world seems fine but after going online you encounter a page full of text and there’s no way you’re reading it.

Your web content, consequently, requires a right-brain style to be effective, explained elsewhere on my blog, at Web content is the new poetry.

The digital-reader study measured reading comprehension on computer screens vs reading comprehension on paper, the results of which don’t matter if no one reads. What’s important is basic online behavior, which is that people scan for the good stuff, explained on my website:

Powerfully, words direct. Credit: Encyclopedia of Science

Additional References:

Electric Language: Understanding the present, by Eric McLuhan.

The Global Village, by Marshal McLuhan.

Writing for the right brain, a left-brainer’s guide

September 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Callum Smith:

Your left brain reads and your right brain sees pictures.

Words stimulate your left-brain hemisphere.

Yet words lull your right-brain hemisphere.

Computer screens, however, stimulate your right-brain hemisphere.

Yet computer screens, however, lull your left-brain hemisphere.

Words on a computer screen makes reading difficult.


Right-brain sees:

  • pictures
  • background
  • everything summed up together

And it has a short attention span.

Left-brain sees:

  • words
  • concepts
  • one detail to ponder

But it hates reading off computer screens.

The trick is to be short and sweet.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Find 1 keyword and focus everything around it.
  2. Write the smallest sentences you can.
  3. Ensure your audience can quickly grasp it.