You won't bother to read this

2 July 2013

You’re lazy.

Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. But you are. You are lazy.

So am I. We all are.

We will put in the least amount of effort we can get away with. Why bother doing anything more? Why do extra work just for the sake of it? That would be inefficient.

We’re even lazy when doing things we find pleasurable, like browsing the internet. I love looking at Hacker News over lunchtime. But reading is hard work. It takes time and it can be boring. Some articles aren’t worth the effort. You don’t really know which ones are going to be worthwhile until you start reading, which is why we skim.

That’s why we often don’t properly understand what we’re reading. It’s easier to work out which mental “box” to file it in, and stick it there. Pigeonhole, then move on.

Analytics from companies like Chartbeat show that most people don’t scroll all the way to the bottom of an article - see Slate’s article from last month for some great graphs, including a fascinating lack of correlation between the number of tweets about an article, and the number of people who actually read the whole thing.

Articles that get a lot of tweets don’t necessarily get read very deeply. Articles that get read deeply aren’t necessarily generating a lot of tweets.

I had an interesting experience last week which also taught me something similar: People don’t read before commenting.

I wrote a blog post called How I live and how I work, which so far has received about 10,000 views - far more than any other post I’ve ever written. There were a lot of comments on the post itself, and also on Hacker News and Twitter.

What amazed me were the number of assumptions that people had made. Various people assumed:

  • I'm single
  • I'm in my twenties
  • I live on ramen
  • I live somewhere shit
  • I don't have a car
  • I am lonely
  • I don't do anything for entertainment
  • I haven't thought about what to do when I become too old or ill to work

All of these are untrue. I never said any of these things in the article. Yet that is what some people understood from it.

It’s almost as if there was a different article that they constructed in their heads - one which conformed to their existing thoughts, prejudices and opinions. Instead of reading and understanding what I wrote, it was quicker for them to file my post into a pre-existing category, and respond to that instead.

Why tweet about, or comment on, an article you haven’t read and understood?

What do you gain by shouting without understanding?