Scanning, Skimming & Skipping, for the Message

We can easily spend all our time processing data and information. It’s a never ending flow. How can we manage our lives without drowning in this river?

It is very clear to me that retiring during the pandemic resulted in an exponential increase in the daily avalanche of information I am now dealing with. The gentle waves of reading and video watching turned into tsunamis. That is not to say that I was not inundated prior to the pandemic, but the comparison seems appropriate. Then came the invasion of Ukraine. I feel topped out with a couple dozen or so new articles and videos filling the tabs of my web browsers every day, (Yes, I use two, one for reading and another for videos), the need for me to hone my skills and diligence at scanning the lists of items to click on, skimming through that which is not that important to me, and being ruthless in skipping that which does not lead me to the actual message. Still, I always end myself concerned that I might miss something important, yet in the end, I will only remember a very small percentage of the information which I might use in conversation with someone else. I often explain to my wife some of what I learn, she exchanges information with friends, and then she sounds like she covered as much material as I have. Women! They may just have a better way. So, I need to heed my own advice and do scanning, skimming & skipping, for the Message.

I’ve chosen three terms to consider in this chapter, so let’s sort out the roles they play in getting the message. But first, can you define what the message is?

Remember from book one that the message is what a person is actually trying to say, and can also include that which pertains to, or is most important to, the reader. We shall refer to scanning as the activity the reader undertakes to find something of interest in the vast amount of reading material they encounter—perhaps a list of new articles. Skimming, on the other hand, is actually a speed reading term whereby you read to ascertain the important points.Skipping may seem like an extra step, it is important to keep in mind as a reminder to actually stop and skip over as much material as you can—be your own editor.  While this book is not primarily about solutions to difficulties presented by the Technojungle, scanning, skimming & skipping are simple and useful tools you can easily learn and can be universally applied as long as there is simply too much data and information to wade through in the Technojungle. They can be like machetes to cut through the dins (noise) jungle.

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

I remember well back in the Technojungle olden days of the newspaper business—well not so long ago actually—newspapers sold advertising and the reporters wrote to fill the spaces left over. Because it was difficult to determine the exact size of the hole the story would fill, writers were required to write so that the piece could be chopped at any point and still convey the most important points in the message. Phototypesetting machines turned out long strips of paper called galleys. These paper strips were waxed and pasted-up on a large sheet of paper the size of the newspaper page with a grid printed on it. This grid sheet caused the galley of text to flow around the advertising. When the space was filled, the galley was chopped with a razor blade. Many readers actually read the entire paper in those days without knowing articles had been chopped. Are you, or have you been a newspaper reader?

While advertising still drives the space for content in some Technojungle media, the way newspapers, and almost all reading materials, are written and read has drastically changed, thanks to the Technojungle Internet. With online content, the space for presenting the message is not nearly as restricted as with traditional media types. Writing is not as concise. Have you noticed articles are written differently?

I’ll stick my neck out here and admit that my writing in these books is more verbose than it should be. My challenge here is in tackling an immense number of topics. I want to present ideas in a friendly way. The Technojungle is huge and I’m attempting to provide an overview.

Most people today are immersed in an overwhelming sea of various types of information and media from numerous Technojungle sources. It is not humanly possible to keep up. E-mail alone can occupy a large portion of reading time. Do you manage to keep up with your reading? How do you do it? 

I find the result of this information overload is that we have to become a society of scanners, skimmers, and skippers. Worried that you might miss something important, you must scan the newspaper, or any other Technojungle information media source, for what might be important to you. Be picky about what you select to read. Ask yourself, “Do I really want or need to read this?” “Have I got the time?”  When you think you have found something, you must skim it to consume the main points along with that which is important to you. As soon as I have read a screenful of text, I always notice the scroll bar on the right as I advance the webpage. If the little grey bar is short like a little capsule, I know I have a long read ahead of me. I then must decide how to deal with the article. Images may make a difference, so I suggest making it a habit to skim the article before reading it. You may find, and should probably try to find, portions to skip over.

During the pandemic, I began reading just about everything I could find about the virus. I soon found myself encountering and wading through vast medical and scientific data and information. I have made attempts to try to understand as much as I can, however, I probably could have done more skimming and skipping as I read.

One last step that gets overlooked is digestion. This is the time you need to take to absorb the information. It’s an important step in learning. We discussed knowledge in book one. Turning data and information into knowledge takes digestion and absorption—we call that soaking time. Do you take the time to digest what you read?

A common reading source I used to encounter was Reader’s Digest. These small, thick booklets were often found in doctor’s waiting rooms because they were easy to read tidbits of information. Longer works of material were carefully condensed for easy reading. Reader’s Digest is still available.

Scanning, skipping, and skimming is not new, however it has become an essential skill in Scanning, skimming, and skipping are not new, however they have become an essential skill in the modern Technojungle. If we cultivate this skill, we can learn to spot important information, such as that which is medically-related, and gain the necessary time to be able to read it properly. 

An important aspect of life in the Technojungle Information Age is the amount of noise. Noise, as covered in book one, is considered the not important information that vies for our attention. Remove it and what is left is considered the signal, or main message which is important to you. Do you watch for and are you aware of information noise?

Today, instead of clear, concise professional in-depth content, we find space-constricted print material competing with click-driven space devouring eContent. Yes, the professional content is still there, but consider the plethora of additional reading material you encounter every day. I’m glad some material comes with a snippet that lets me know basically what the article is about. Can you name some sources that present data and information in useful ways?

As printing became more expensive and an environmental concern, more content migrated to the Technojungle Internet, combined with other media, such as video. Take a look around at the online content you deal with. Much of it is spread amongst many pages.

Scanning, skimming, and skipping is not new, however it has become an essential skill in the modern Technojungle.

Advertising costs in print are based on the portion of a page consumed and the position in the publication. In the online Technojungle world, advertisers pay for clicks. A page with shorter content costs the same as a long page of content. Splitting the content up can generate more clicks and thus more revenue for the publication. While a long page is harder to read, the extra click can mean the loss of the reader, if they decide they have read enough.

Technojungle audio and video material is quite different from text. Being contained in a more linear format, it is difficult to scan, skip, and skim. How do you deal with audio and video content? I often just let the content play, however, I can easily lose hours of time when I know there are portions I could skip. Sometimes I use the arrow keys when viewing on my computer. It is not as easy on other devices and only results in skipping a few seconds

Consider just how hard it is to determine truth. False data and information are rampant in the post-modern Technojungle. As your own editor you get to determine what is truth to you—you can get it wrong. Individual humans have never had such power in determining truth, but it has never been a more difficult exercise.

Have you noticed that online Technojungle publishers seem to think you have all day to study the topics in their articles? Not only are articles extremely long, but they almost always have links to related material. On top of that, many also have a video, or several, to accompany the article. Often videos begin playing as soon as you load the webpage and as you scroll the page, the video follows you. How do you feel about material presented these ways?

We are an attention-split society. This ball we call Earth is like a giant brain with expanding networks of Technojungle neurons. It overwhelms us with information as our time and attention span keep shrinking. Young people find they must do several things at once in a desperate attempt to keep up. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the millennial generation is spending 18 cumulative hours a day on media. My kids gave up on E-mail years ago. We were told to use texting if we wanted to communicate with them. Text is an on-going short conversation that slips away.  There is a sense among many youth that nothing is important or has value. Having to deal with an E-mail inbox that keeps filling up requires too much time.  

We need to become the editor for our Technojungle lives. Armed with our virtual razor blade, we need to chop the galleys of endless text and other media that we don’t need to read—think noise. I admit that I have to develop my skills. Like any skill, it takes a concerted effort to develop. 

Have you ever stopped to watch a river, particularly after a heavy rain? In this Information Age we are living, we wade in a river torrent as we carry the Technojungle world in the palm of our hand everywhere we go. It is not just reading material we carry. Any type of media is at our fingertips anytime, anywhere—we can’t turn it off, we get swept away.

One last important point to remember. Consider just how hard it is to determine truth. False data and information are rampant in the post-modern Technojungle. As your own editor you get to determine what is truth to you—you can get it wrong. Individual humans have never had such power in determining truth, but it has never been a more difficult exercise.

Scanning, skimming and skipping can be a way of cultivating our own Technojungle. Cultivating the Technojungle of information in each of our lives is a painful task. It is not easy. It is a skill worth working on as we learn about being better human beings and living in this technology dominated world—the Technojungle.

No doubt you are already doing some scanning, skimming, and skipping. Hopefully you can develop the skills further and more consciously to manage your life. Did you know there is actually a new economy?


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