Feeding the hummingbirds

One of our references was
Naish, J. (2008). Enough information. In J. Naish, Enough: Breaking free from the world of more (pp.14-48). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

It fit with what I have heard and read elsewhere about the techniques of advertising / PR.

The techniques of attention grabbing keep progressing, so our attempts to catch students’ attention are up against heavy-duty competition. Should we continue the arms race, until people start exploding from the stress of blipverts? (See the video series “Max Headroom“, I mean literally explode.)

In the 1990s there was an evil fashion in public contact documents for a range of font sizes, types, and colours to be used to highlight (apparently randomly) selected words from the text.  It hurt me to read it,  but it was supposed to make the companies seem  “friendlier”.

The idea that our goal should be to grab attention in our documents seems to me to be debatable.  Are we teaching students to think that plain is wrong?  Think back – what did we think of people who said “He’s reading a book with no pictures in it!”

While I was pondering this, a housemate was working on an assignment.  He said, “I’ve got all the real stuff there, I’m just putting in stuff for the hummingbirds.”

He explained:   hummingbirds don’t think it’s food if it’s not from the right set of shapes.  He had to get all his class interested in reading it, so  he was putting in bright trinkets to catch the attention of the surface-focused  browsers.

To reach some students, we may need to feed the hummingbirds – but I believe that I have a responsibility to help them learn to feed from very plain text.  Then they will have access to the world’s great thinkers and humorists  in a form with no email notices or  flashing advertisements, and safe to read in the bath.  More importantly, they may come to ask what is not emphasised in the animated sites, and why, and  may find that plain formats (without tempting links) allow longer and deeper concentration on understanding the text.

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2 Responses to “Feeding the hummingbirds”

  1. Averil Says:

    This is a really interesting post. Can you recall that at a certain age it was no longer cool to read books with pictures in them! It increased your status as a reader if you borrowed books from the library without pictures.

    It would be interesting to get primary school students views on this.

  2. Mark Pegrum Says:

    Again, it’s a question of balance – but given that there is so much animated competition, one of the functions of schools certainly is, and will increasingly be, to introduce the virtues of plain text.

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