Eye tracking, a different way of reading, a different way of thinking

It is a cold afternoon of January 1989, I am wandering around, I find shelter in a small bookstore. The hanging doorbell begins to dilly-dally and the owner comes to me smiling.
I answer to his smile with a “just looking”. I begin to flick through some books.  I am attracted by the titles and covers, so I open a page at random, read some, open another page and read again. I repeat this rite four or five times till I find a book I like. There is a sentence I find more interesting, original. I check the price; it seems ok so I buy it. 

I would have never imagined that my nonsequential fast reading technique, my way of browsing, a consequence of my need to guess in a few minutes which book is the one for me, would have become a habit for me as for many others.

Today, thirty years later, my small personal library is almost exclusively composed of digital books, eBook.  Today, thirty years later, I am connected to a global and social network such as Internet. Browsing and quickly reading in a nonsequential way became a habit. 

None of us read all we receive in Internet because we don’t have time. It is as if, on January 1989, I would have stayed and red all the books of the library to evaluate the best.  I never would have had the possibility nor the time, also because some time later the small bookstore would have closed, gobbled up by the large distribution. 

Our attention roams in front of a website with hundreds of alternatives. It doesn’t follow anymore a sequential logic from up left to bottom right. It tries to capture interesting words or titles, it turns towards images, it focuses on the central and final part of the display. It searches for icons and colors.

On 1989 we were sequential disciplined readers. Our eyes “were moving” following a definite line. Now we are impulsive and receptive readers, we let us guided by the images, by the hypertexts.

We are circus-like who do strange stunts on the text; we are dancers who twirl towards the most interesting hashtag. We were “marathon reader”s and we became “acrobats readers”.

Usability tests and analysis steps of our visual behaviour, based on motion eye tracking, literally eye tracking, confirm these dynamics. The frequent use, very frequent use of smartphones, does nothing but accelerating our eye movement.

While I’m reading dozens of WhatsApp messages, I realize that I apply the same strategy used in that bookstore 30 years ago. I read non sequentially, but a little of everything trying to get an idea. I’m drawn to the most interesting sentences and emoticons.

To be honest, this kind of visual movement was partly ours since the beginning. For example, during the driving, especially in traffic, we don’t look into the rear window in a sequential way, we use three different rear views mirrors, we watch the road, the signs, the pedestrians. We adapt our gaze following the sounds, visual stimuli, our senses and itinerary. Non-sequentially! We quickly follow the events, as if we were in front of a video screen in a complex context acquiring and answering to stimuli.

There is a sunny day outside, I’m back on June 2020, watching tv.
There is news, the right column contains texts and previews. The bar at the bottom of the display contains rolling news and in the middle of the display there is the host talking. I am reading, watching, listening.

And, as written on the headline, to which only few of you gave the proper attention precisely because it is placed on top: a different way of reading means, in the long run, a different way of thinking.

After all, on 1989 we were living in world 1.0, it’s been a “world” since then!

World 2.0

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