Thursday, October 22, 2009


According to a study made by James A. Evans, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago, today scientists and scholars tend to search electronically and follow hyperlinks rather than browse or peruse.

Traditionally the forced browsing of print archives may have stretched scientists and scholars to anchor findings deeply into past and present scholarship. Today however searching online is more efficient and following hyperlinks quickly puts researchers in touch with prevailing opinion, but this may accelerate consensus and narrow the range of findings and ideas built upon.

These remarks show just one unpleasant aspect of a pandemic induced by overuse of hyperlinks, what I call hyper-clicking. We are simply lured by the power of hyperlinks, inclined to follow them wherever we see them without in depth questioning.

Even scarier the path we follow from one hyperlink to another is statistically the most probable one, the links we are exposed to are simply the most popular ones. Hyper-clicking often acts like a double-edged sword, not only we rapidly diverge from our original intent, we also converge to a direction not dictated by our freewill but by popular opinion.

Hyper-clicking narrows down options rather than multiplying them, our intention of finding answers is channeled into popular choice. We become a zombie like victim of populist ignorance. Misused this way the Internet becomes nothing more than a giant billboard on which the choices are narrowed down by popular demand and alternative thoughts are hidden somewhere like fine prints no one wants to read.

To combat hyper-clicking I suggest:
  • First and foremost learn to slow down. Get back into the habit of "read more, follow less". Finish the article you started reading. Imagine yourself in a long train journey and you have no choice. Rediscover the wisdom in boredom.
  • Question objectivity of content providers before blindly following the links offered by them. Ask yourself about their original intention, the reliability of information they provide, and their syndicates.
  • From time to time refine your favourite site list, remove the sites you think offer less or no value for you.
  • Beware of RSS-entropy, regularly clean up RSS feeds you no longer benefit from.
  • Use more than one search engine (examples: Google, Bing, and Wolfram).


Bob MacNeal said...

Makes sense. Hadn't considered it though. Thanks.

Caveman said...

The hypertext culture has also shortened most people's attention span. As you say, it is important to read an entire article if you want to follow the author's attention.

As an author it is better to group your links at the end of the article under a heading of "Further reading", otherwise your reader will click your link and never return!

As a reader I open a link with "Open in New Window" then read that tabbed window AFTER I have completed reading the current article.

Nowadays, people don't READ web pages, they SKIM them. Jakon Nielssen writes about this in his book DESIGNING WEB USABILITY.

Great article!

Ergun Çoruh said...

Good tips Caveman. Thank you.