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Research First - Put Down Your Phone and Pick Up a Book

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A deep dive into sentiment and the value of reputation

Sentiment analysis can be a valuable tool for brand reputation and management. Understanding how your clients and wider audience perceive your brand defines the operation of your business and using sentiment can harness strong brand equity and the opportunity for your business to monitor, measure and maintain a strong reputation.

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Research First

Put Down Your Phone and Pick Up a Book

Here’s something to think about: if you’re reading this article online then you might want to think about printing it out and reading the hard copy. That may sound impossibly old school but the research is clear that reading online you’re less likely to comprehend what I’m trying to say and less likely to remember it afterwards. In fact, you’re much less likely to really read it at all.

Not only do we read differently online (scanning the text for key words in what eye-tracking software shows is a F-pattern) but we also use a different part of our brain when doing it. This makes more sense when you think that every hyperlink you see requires you to make a choice – do you stay on the original page or click away to something that might be more interesting somewhere else? It’s for these reasons that Sam Anderson of The New York Times has noted that “when we read online, we hardly read at all”. In one wonderful study that tracked Reddit users over a year, researchers found that nearly three-quarters of the ratings the users gave to posts occurred prior to viewing any content.

The online world gave us the shorthand TL;DR (‘too long, didn’t read’) but the cartoonist Tom Gauld has noted that this should be extended to SR;MTP (‘skim read, missed the point’) and RH;PAC (‘read headline, posted angry comment’). Which is amusing until you consider that the TL;DR effect might be a feature and not a bug of online content.

A number of studies show that the endless choices online mean we increasingly live in a world of continuous partial attention. One of these studies found that American officer workers had an average of eight windows open in their browser at any one time, and they skipped between them about every 20 seconds. Another study from the UK shows how media multi-tasking has become the norm, with users either ‘stacking’ or ‘meshing’ multiple digital devices (if you’re watching the final season of Game of Thrones then you’re ‘meshing’ when you use your iPad to find out what else Kristofer Hivju has been in, and it’s ‘stacking’ when you check Stuff’s headlines during the moments Mad Queen Cersei is ranting). 

Psychologists are particularly concerned about the impact online content has on our ability to focus on a single task for extended periods. There is little doubt that attention spans have gone down, and cognitive impatience has gone up. This is less of a surprise when you realise this is how the online world works; the greatest minds Silicon Valley can muster are working tirelessly to come up with new ways to get you to click on links and keep you clicking. As Sam Anderson put it “the internet is basically a Skinner Box engineered to tap right into our deepest mechanisms of addiction”.

As our attention has decreased, the measures needed to attract it have become much more wanton. Tristan Harris, who worked at Google before his own Damascene conversion, captures this better than I ever could as “a race to the bottom of the brain stem”. Thoreau once said he “heard the gurgling of the sewer” in the columns in his local paper, which leaves one wondering what he would make of social media (although the rest of his vent gives us some ideas: “I have felt that I was handling a paper picked out of the public gutters, a leaf from the gospel of the gambling-house, the groggery, and the brothel”).

The ethics of clickbait aside, it does seem like we are in danger of losing the talent for what Maryanne Wolf has called ‘deep reading’. Her point, and mine, is that deep reading and deep thinking are inextricably linked. Keeping a healthy brain means, even if only from time to time, engaging with cognitively demanding context. Think of it as the green leafy vegetables in your diet, or not skipping leg day in the gym. Being human is about so much more than always taking the easy option. And that applies for your reading choices too. As JFK said in a difference context, sometimes doing what is hardest serves to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills.

So if are reading this online, put down your phone and pick up a book.

Your brain will thank you for it.

Written by Carl Davidson, Chief Social Scientist at Research First
Research First – making the complex simple


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