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Reading Skills

© March 2008 Anthony Lawrence
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I'm not much for visuals. I don't like video blogs, slide show blogs: I want text. I suspect that's because I have extreme astigmatism and it wasn't corrected until I was well into school; I couldn't see much of the world around me so I never really learned to appreciate visual images as much as most people do. Probably for the same reason I'd rather read a book than watch a movie.

But there's more to it. I can't stand watching video blogs because they take too much time. I can read and skim through dozens of websites in the time it would take me to watch one video.. watching videos (and slideshows are almost as bad) just isn't efficient.

Obviously some things need pictures, and some things need video. But it seems to me that a lot of what's presently blogged in a video format not only doesn't need to be that way, but shouldn't be.

However, these formats are becoming very popular. Even a few blogs that I used to read regularly have switched to video - annoying me greatly, but apparently satisfying their greater audience. So what's the deal? Is text doomed to extinction? Is it because of poor reading skills? Do the people who prefer to listen and watch actually get more of of that than they would from reading? I'm beginning to think that must be the case.. if so, it's a terrible shame.

A seller of speed reading resources says this:

The statistics speak for themselves. The average CEO in America reads 4-5 books per month and the average American reads 1 book per year! That is an extremely amazing and true statistic. Question: Did the CEO develop his habit of reading while he was a CEO or is it a life-long habit that he or she had nurtured long before?

(from Ron White Training)

I don't know how accurate that is, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were true. Worse, as I know at least some of us read much more, that would mean that a high percentage doesn't read at all.. scary, I think. There are other statistics at https://www.readfaster.com/education_stats.asp that don't comfort me any.. Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason has quite a bit to say about American ignorance; I can't help but feel the trend toward video is strongly related.

On the other hand, I'm acutely aware that part of this is the old fogey grumbling about the youngun's ways. Humans have been doing that for centuries, maybe longer. There is no denying that video is an inefficient way of imparting information, but there is also the fact that it can be more effective and memorable. That is, it may be true that large amounts of knowledge can be transmitted more quickly through the written word, but a lesser quantity presented with video may be more easily absorbed. We have never before had the ability to provide so much information in this way, so it may be far too early to bemoan its supposed impotency. Overall, it might actually be better: if Johnny can read, but won't, imparting knowledge by video is certainly better than nothing at all.

Remarkablogger did a post recently entitled What Makes a Great Video Blog? which imbeds a number of sample videos from popular video bloggers. Some of the comments express misgivings about the time required to watch these sites, but most seem to think the trend is inevitable.

Obviously YOU can read - or you wouldn't be here. What's your feeling about the trend toward video? Do you like it, hate it, or is it just another medium, useful for some things? Do you read more than you watch or vice versa? Does functional illiteracy and ignorance worry you as much as it worries me?

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Wed Mar 12 14:37:53 2008: 3837   Niall

I don't read any video blogs regularly, but I do feel that video (well, good videos) can quickly impart information. Case in point: The iPhone development videos on (link) Besides an unfortunate proclivity for using "slides" to display bullet points, these videos are excellent, doing the skimming for me on a variety of topics by giving me a quick overview of the various technologies and tools available.

I'm hard pressed to come up with another example of "videos done right" though. Your post reminds me of another post (on the topic of PowerPoint):


“If you’ve got nothing to say”, starts a maxim from the advertising world, “then sing it”. Perhaps we could say much the same about PowerPoint: “If you’ve nothing to say, PowerPoint can help you say it loudly and clearly”.

Perhaps the same could be said of video? ;)

Thu Mar 13 18:48:50 2008: 3838   drag

Reading is faster, clearer, and easier to understand.. With video blogs you tend to have a large lack of production quality that makes it often difficult to understand.

Also with hypertext it's very easy to cross reference information, do searches, and do quotes. With hypertext you can pull a quote out of a blog, provide a link back and everything is dandy. With streaming formats like video or audio this makes things like that much more difficult to do.

Sometimes video is appropriate.. like doing woodworking demonstrations, for example. Text and images would tend to be much less effective then video.. although combination of all three would be ideal.

But ya, in general video blogs are just a bad idea.

Fri Mar 14 11:06:37 2008: 3840   yungchin

I definitely prefer reading - sometimes it's faster, sometimes it's slower, depending on the subject. But it's always at *my* pace :)

Also, if you believe the story that people show more brain activation when they read (or even when they sleep and dream) than when they watch videos, you might conclude that a video blog keeps your audience from thinking - which can be a pro or con depending on your objectives :)

I couldn't quickly find a reliable source for the brain activation story just now. I'll post back if I should come across it... and apologies if it turns out I've just been adding momentum to an urban myth!!

Wed Jun 11 09:56:43 2008: 4331   TonyLawrence

A recent (and long) post that reminded me of this: (link)

Wed Jun 3 10:44:57 2009: 6434   anonymous

The video blog format has to evolve into a new kind of thing; much more edited and interactive. For example today I was about to take a look at the Google Wave -- but since the video presentation lasted 1h 2 min I skipped it altogether. Simply don't have time to stay still so long. Videos can push information effectively but there should be extreme effectiveness in them. They're not good for "floating" or even repeating long discourse second by second.

Wed Jun 3 10:49:46 2009: 6435   TonyLawrence

Also, when reading a long article you can skip backwards when you find you need to understand something better. That's far less precise with video unless it's just that you missed what they just said.

But regardless of my carping, video seems to be getting more and more popular. Do people hate reading that much??

Thu Jun 4 13:47:54 2009: 6439   BigDumbDinosaur

Call me an old dinosaur, but I still prefer the printed page. The majority of the blog videos I've seen are amateurish at best -- some semi-illiterate droning on and on about something that I really don't care about. Many written blogs tend to be loaded with 50 cent words and dubious grammatical contructs in an effort to give the author a Susan Jacoby-like aura (she is a good writer, even when imitating Spiro Agnew), but fail to transmit a message to me that is loud and clear.

Writing on paper takes more work and therefore, the author tends to be much more careful about what is said and how it is said. The same cannot be said (how's that for redundancy?) for on-line blogs, especially the video variety.

Thu Jun 4 14:15:28 2009: 6440   BigDumbDInosaur

BTW, here's a good example of good on-line writing: (link)


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