For work I’ve been reading both marketing and usability studies and essays on user interface design. A common idea across all of these areas is the trend toward creating more scannable content. This is primarily because users come to software and Internet pages to accomplish tasks, not to be entertained or enlightened.
Speed readers grab what they need and go! Designers use bolding and other tricks to help people scan a page. I see myself doing it when I come across a list of marketing tips. I scan for the main points and read further where I need to.
I can feel the knuckles crunching on the hands of writing academics, their blood pressure rising to a steam. Is quality reading losing the battle? Reading poetry takes attention. It’s the antithesis of scanning. It’s slow reading.
Monsieur Big Bang and I are also listening to The History of the English Language podcast with Kevin Stroud. In one episode he describes Old English Scops (or poets) who were once happily employed traveling to villages providing poem-casts of the latest news. Back then, poets were charged with keeping the news flowing in a time when nobody could read or write. Rhyming provided ways of understanding and memorizing that news. Truly, poets were the social media of their day. We’re fine with that right? Well then…check your self-serving diatribes about social media at the door.
Communication efficiency in the old days was good if it served poets. Is language efficiency bad now because poets are left out? Culture changes and therefore communication changes. Society is doing what it needs to do. This doesn’t mean that poetry should be eradiated from communication. It just means we won’t use it the way we previously did. Poems are not for distributing the news anymore. They’re for meditative moments, considered protests and language inquiry. Poems are not scannable; but wait, here comes the next experimental poem exploring scannability! Wait for it!