About Not Reading

[fr] Je me suis rendu compte tout dernièrement à quel point il est facile de répondre à une question sans l'avoir lue en entier, de commenter sur un billet de blog sans avoir cliqué sur le lien. FriendFeed pousse un peu à ça, avec sa manie de lister des titres de billets sur lesquels on peut commenter (je prétends pas avoir une meilleure solution).

Récemment, je demandais à mon entourage leur avis sur une question de workshops avant ou après Going Solo (j'en parlerai ailleurs plus en détail, ce n'est pas le propos de ce billet), et j'ai été étonnée de la quantité de réponses qui semblaient indiquer que mon interlocuteur n'avait en fait pas lu le lien que je lui avais donné.

Je ne vais pas jeter la pierre, je me rends régulièrement coupable du même raccourci (commenter sans avoir lu) même si j'essaie vraiment de me limiter. Ça me rappelle les Mythologiques de Lévi-Strauss, qu'on cite à tout va mais que personne n'a en fait lues en entier...

I’m guilty too. I sometimes read the title of a blog post, or a few sentences of an article, and comment on it.

It struck me recently how common this practice is, and also how it impairs communication. It’s the shortcut, the bet we make that we guessed or assumed correctly, the easy way out. Communication with no parasites requires work, and patience.

These last two days I’ve been trying to make up my mind about whether to place workshops before or after the main day of conferences for Going Solo. It’s a tricky problem which I don’t want to start discussing right now (I’m going to blog about the issues I face more precisely on the Going Solo blog shortly).

So, I chatted with people, Twittered about it, got into e-mail conversations, and decided to sum up some of my thoughts in a Tumblr entry, which allowed me to simply point people there and ask them what their thoughts were.

And I was amazed at how many people didn’t actually respond to my point of concern (“are there any economical/sales/marketing reasons for putting a workshop before a conference, if there are other good reasons to place it after”) because the title, visible in the URL, led them to believe it was a simpler question: http://steph.tumblr.com/post/37831000/workshops-before-or-after.

Now, I’m guilty as much as they are. I took a shortcut too by blogging my thoughts and giving them a link, rather than engaging with each of them personally from ground zero.

But setting aside the question or workshops (which I’ll expound in another post), it did serve as an enlighting reminder that people (me included) do not always read what they react to.

It reminds me of one of my university teachers who told us the following story. When he was doing his PhD, he started trudging through the four volumes of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Mythologiques. For those who are not familiar with Lévi-Strauss, Mythologiques is his master work and is oft-cited in many disciplines of the academic world. Well, as he was stumbling upon some particularly nasty passages, he started asking collegues and professors what they had thought of them. And to his surprise, he realised that nobody he could find had actually read through the four volumes. Everyone was talking about this work, but nobody had actually read it in its entirety.

Isn’t that incredible?

Well, not so incredible if you think of it — at least not in the academic world. And obviously, not in the blog world either.

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This entry was posted in Stuff that doesn't fit and tagged assumption, Blogger musings, commentary, commenting, communication, Psychology / Sociology, reading, Thinking. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to About Not Reading

  1. We often run workshops on a Friday for conferences starting on Saturdays so people can get a day away from work and then decide whether to burn up part of their weekend with the conference sessions. We also monetise conferences by charging profitable rates for the workshops.

    And I’m yet another person who has not read all of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Mythologiques.

  2. Louis Gray says:

    That’s why I said Headlines are more important than ever. You only have a few seconds to grab somebody’s attention, and it’s likely they’re not reading the whole story.

    In Blogging and RSS, Headlines Can be Make or Break http://www.louisgray.com/live/2008/03/in-blogging-and-rss-headlines-can-be.html

  3. Karen Swim says:

    Stephanie, it is a sad reality that I suppose has always existed but becomes illuminated in today’s content intensive world. It is for this reason that many often write for “skimmers” with short bullets and sub headlines throughout copy. I too have been guilty of skimming but lately if I find myself skimming, I realize I’m tired and I opt to read and comment when I have time to give it my full attention. Am I reading and commenting less? You bet! However, I would rather give my quality attention to a few rather than scattered attention to many.

    P.S. I actually read the French and English on this post, of course did much better with teh English. Merci! :-)

  4. Stephanie says:

    Louis: doesn’t it depend, somewhat, on if you want to get simple points across or argue complex issues? I’m not very interested in boiling down my thinking or ideas to a headline… even if it means I reach less people.

    I do agree with you, though (and I haven’t yet read your article because I’m rushing off) that headlines are important.

  5. Louis Gray says:

    I tend not to write short pieces, so I use headlines to make people click and read through. Whether my pieces are complex, is of course, based on the reader’s interpretation. But even for complex issues, a good headline helps.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Good point. Headline as bait !== headline as summary.

  7. Finpoil says:

    Je suis peut-être à côté du sujet, parce que je réagis surtout au dernier passage de ton billet. Je voulais attirer ton attention sur l’excellent essai de Pierre Bayard “Comment parler des livres que l’on a pas lus?”, qui traite justement de l’utilité du “skimming”. Ça rejoint aussi les idées d’Edgar Morin (que je n’ai pas lu, mais que je cite tout de même, ha ha ha): il est plus utile de savoir le global d’un sujet et de pouvoir faire des liens avec d’autres thèmes, que d’être un spécialiste isolé dans son domaine. Donc il n’y a pas besoin de connaître toute l’oeuvre pour la citer en toute honnêteté.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Finpoil: je suis d’accord avec toi, il n’y a pas besoin d’avoir tout lu pour pouvoir citer. Ce n’était pas vraiment ce que je souhaitais mettre en avant, plutôt de la curiosité face au “phénomène” qui fait qu’une référence littéraire importante (Mythologiques) n’est quasi jamais lue (ce qui ne veut pas dire que je veux dénier à qui que ce soit le droit de la citer).

    Ma critique critique vise plutôt le monde du social media où l’on met sur un piédestal le commentaire à tout prix, toujours plus de commentaire, de la conversation, pardi! ce qui finit par nous donner des trucs comme FriendFeed (outil très bien par ailleurs) conçu de façon à encourager le commentaire sans lecture.

    C’est très intéressant, ce qui se passe. Et merci pour les références :-)

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