The Internet Is Training Your Eyes to Move in Certain Patterns
There are some who argue that, thanks to the Internet, social media, and text speak, we are moving toward a post-literate society. When a hit "article" on big sites like BuzzFeed consists of a series of GIFs and image macros made by other people and tied together with 100 words of sentence fragments, that argument is difficult to rebut. And according to research conducted by both Nielsen Norman Group and Mediative, this type of content is changing the way we read.
For as long as large blocks of text have existed, your eyeballs have been trained to suck in the information by quickly hopping horizontally from one word to the next, then zipping back to the start of the next line, like so:
Assuming your language reads left-to-right, obviously
... and on and on steadily down the page, until you get bored or decide you've pretty much gotten the gist. But this was back in the days when you were reading a single book or a newspaper and your only choice was to either steadily plow through it, or stare quietly at the wall. Today, your brain is a battered refugee huddled in the middle of a howling typhoon of web content. You can't hope to read it all, or even skim it. So, your eyes have adapted. NNG refers to it as the F-Shaped Pattern, while Mediative calls it the Golden Triangle, but what they both boil down to is that when screen reading (i.e., reading on Internet-connected computer screens, smartphones, e-book readers, etc.), our eyes make a triangle or F-shape down the page:
Eyetools, Inc. via Mediative
According to that image, you're not reading this caption. So, the government is giant crabs,
and the moon landing was a cartoon.
According to this theory, you've already stopped paying attention to any of the crazy language shapes we're typing, but we'll explain what's going on up there anyway: Basically, when we start to read a webpage, we view the first couple lines in full, giving them our complete attention and reading them in their entirety. However, as we begin to work our way down the page, we start reading less and less of each line until we finally get to the bottom, at which point we're basically reading nothing at all. It's the whole reason the TL;DR tag exists -- if a piece of content or information is longer than a few lines, most will not read it.