I haz a theory that Millennials read differently than I (Gen X) do

I’m noticing something, which I shall, as usual, turn into a probably specious generalization. BUT IT’S INTERESTING.

One of the things the amazing and brilliant Lisa Bates got on my case about. In particular: with reading a “blog post about blog post” (which I admit I didn’t know was a Special Thing), I didn’t read the links. Her notion, I think, was I was being a lazy reader for not following the links and reading those. My interpretation: I didn’t know blog posts could be about other blog posts, and I don’t follow all the links out of politeness to the writer of the original post. If you go leaving his/her post, you almost never get back. Or do you? I almost never do! I go click the link to read that, and that post has got links, and you gotta go click on those, and soon enough you have to go to the bathroom and then you’ve got a student in your office and then the dean and then something else and so you never get to the first writer’s conclusion. So I tend not to follow ANY link unless it is a link back to the original news story, or the original blog post.

I don’t tend to use links as *reporting* where people are meant to follow them in order to understand my meaning. I use links to point to original points and essays and then summarize those points as I understand them–I also use them to hat tip.

A “meta” post–like a blog post about blog posts suggests a different type of read than essay reading. How does one DO blog posts about blog posts? Do you read the original writing in its entirety and THEN go back through for links? How does one select which links to read, on the assumption that reading one essay’s link will probably take you to another essay with links? Do you a priori select which links you are going to read first, and then go down the order that way? This is far more like putting together a puzzle than reading an essay.

Or do you just scat about clinking links here and there? How does one learn what writers are saying that way? I DO NOT KNOW. Somebody must know. TELL ME.

The OTHER thing I have noticed is that my students do not mind polemics about things that have no reporting, or polemical titles for essays or articles that they otherwise like. My planning students will circulate “Stupid government planners outwitted by artist” as a title with comments like “dumb title but great article!” Whereas I take titles very seriously. The article I just mentioned (and that’s not its title, but it might as well be), for instance, has a discussion of how city planners fostered the program that enabled artists to come up with a better design for something they wanted to communicate in a high profile way. Now, that’s hardly “governments planners being outwitted.” It’s almost like this generation of readers has simply become used to having their core values in place, they just don’t take it seriously when people use cheesy polemic to try to grab eyeballs, and they don’t see that sensationalism as part of the *reporting* (which makes it weak to my mind) but, instead, as an inevitable part of the marketing.

I have no idea if any of these impressions are right or not, but this is what I am thinking about today. What are you thinking about?

5 thoughts on “I haz a theory that Millennials read differently than I (Gen X) do

  1. The younger generation has killed the English language as I knew it. Too bad; they are mostly self absorbed and could care less about intellectual discussions on a higher level.

  2. I would like to offer a Millennial response, since I both completely understand the feeling and was the ‘dumb headline great article’ source.

    Firstly – we feel the same way about books. Like it or not, we are used to having links to information at our fingertips. If we don’t understand a word, we can click on it and see a definition. If we are unfamiliar with a study, we can follow a hyperlink to get the gist of it before continuing to read.

    I can’t do that in a book. I especially can’t do that when all of the studies are listed in tiny print aggregated at the end of the book with arcane citations that don’t correspond to online databases and archives. Actually tracking down contextualizing information that is not readily available online or in print would be a _major_ disruption to following an argument, arguably more so than diving down the rabbit hole of hyperlinks.

    I don’t read a ton of blogs, so I am mostly familiar with this situation when reading things for school, especially in the beginning when I didn’t have all that background knowledge about baseline, classic studies, theories, concepts, projects, people, etc. It makes the learning curve incredibly steep, especially if venturing into a new field.

    I think there is a bit of the Curse of Knowledge at play here. Sometimes we assume a reader (or a student) is up to speed on jargon and field-relevant assumptions because it seems just so damn basic to us, that we can’t imagine someone NOT knowing what TOD is and how we feel about it as a profession. I’ll never forget being utterly lost in the middle of a Smart Growth article until it dawned on me that maybe the author thought it was not all it’s cracked up to be. Silly me, I was thinking Smart Growth was a GOOD thing! It’s smart! It makes logical sense! It seems like a better idea than whatever we do now, so what’s the issue? (*cue scene of Liana starting to read the article all over again*)

    As for headlines – yep we’re used to it. Polemic is the nasty byproduct of an unregulated advertising market. All our lives we’ve had television and radio screaming at us about OHMIGOD THE WORLD WILL END IF YOUR TEETH AREN’T NEON WHITE AND YOU’LL NEVER HAVE ANY FRIENDS IF YOU DON’T BUY THESE SHOES LIKE LITERALLY YESTERDAY!!!!! AND THEN A KITTEN WILL DIE EVERY TIME YOU DON’T CLICK ON THIS LINK!! AHHH!

    These days, polemic = real person, not a corporation. There’s a difference between academic-style blogs that intentionally mimic news sources (ostensibly to keep journalism alive), and someone’s collection of interesting things they found online. I think of the latter as a welcomed replacement to those chain emails that used to go around with the same bad jokes and urban legends that would get forwarded five gazillion times and end up infecting your computer with some evil transformative parasite.

    As most marketers will tell you, my generation has been conditioned to be absolutely brilliant bullshit detectors. We can tell the difference almost instantly between ‘attention grabbing headline’ and ‘scary sounding shit that might make you click a link’ – and even if you DO click the link (we all do sometimes), it’s a matter of how quickly you realize you’re reading something vapid and ignorant (and close the window), or something legitimately interesting and useful.

    I don’t agree about the core values assumption – and I would hope that other generations don’t assume the mass media marketing strategies are reflections of ‘our’ collective core values. I find most ads that target my age group to be insulting, demeaning, misogynistic, perpetuations of stereotypes and critical of intelligence. I don’t like pop culture. I don’t understand the references (nor do I care to learn) – it’s a great filter. Millennials do share a lot of core values that are reflections of the world in which we came of age – we all witnessed the dying gasping breath of the American Dream, we saw Explorers roll over and Hummers come and go, we were taught the Dewey decimal system just in time to never use it, and we only get the ‘stapling a floppy disk’ joke because we know what they are, but never used them outside of elementary school. Most of us learned about oral sex thanks to Monica Lewinsky, and about racial inequalities thanks to OJ.

    Specifically about that headline – it was actually a re-tweet (or whatever the FB equivalent is) from a friend, who founded evacuteer.org, and is responsible for pretty much singlehandedly forging a new public/CBO partnership model for emergency preparedness that is being heralded around the country as a paradigm of community resiliency. And he works WITH the government – that’s kinda the whole point. It does, however, reiterate just how little faith we Millennials have in the ability of government to get anything done, especially something clever!

    So, that’s what I’m thinking about. And now I’m thinking I’m WAY behind on this paper I should be writing instead…..

    : )

  3. When I say core values are in place, I mean that you have a sense of where you are beginning from, and polemical communications aren’t read in such a way that challenges the beginning position; for instance, you obviously think planning is worthwhile, you regarded the content of that article within the frame of what it meant for something you already value–planning–regardless of how the writer attempted to frame it.

  4. Hmmm… I was trying to say the opposite, so apparently I didn’t explain myself too well. Yes I value planning, and the headline (and article) clearly do not. But I also don’t think of polemic as a valid argument that should warrant challenging my beginning position or core values. I think sensationalism undermines the value of polemical communications, and that is a byproduct of marketing oversaturation. The more sensationalized, the less I value it’s ability to challenge my core values. There’s a huge difference between eye-ball grabbing headlines and persuasive titles – I generally consider polemic to fall in the former, whereas the latter should speak for itself and not resort to dramatized exclamation that aren’t supported. “Stupid government planners” may be attention-getting, but what it gains in attention it loses in credibility. So in this particular instance (aside from first hand familiarity with the actual project), I found no reason in the headline or content to challenge my original position, hence my comment ‘dumb headline, great article.’

    If the article that followed actually described stupid government planners (let’s be honest, there are plenty out there), that would challenge my beginning position. But like I said, I personally know this project, so the title was ridiculous to me because it was completely missing the entire concept.

    I understand the point about the importance of a title – but is a polemical headline supposed to prepare me to be persuaded? I think it just tells me the author is not interested in debate, which prepares me to read someone else’s opinion/perception. One of the few blogs I subscribe to is from a massively conservative planning group that regularly makes my head explode – but you wouldn’t know from the headlines. If the polemic of an anti-social justice planning article could fundamentally sway my core values, at what point does ‘open-minded’ become ‘easily persuaded’?

  5. I think we are kind of making the same point, actually; I might be the one explaining myself well enough. My point about the core values and comfort with polemic has to do with the fact that if I were to have SEEN the title of the piece that you circulated, I would have been less likely to read it had a) you not pointed to it and b) if I didn’t have respect for you and your ideas. That is, Millennials see the grabby, click-bait titles as contingent smoke: maybe the writing within is polemical, maybe it’s not; let’s go see. I see them as a priori proof that the writing is likely to biased, polemical, and a waste of my time…thus, I don’t read them based on the title (unless one of my brilliant students tells me to.)

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