Is social media making me illiterate?

So I had a revelation today. I don’t know about you but I actually really like when this happens. It’s like the clouds lift and the light shines as I realize a tiny bit more about myself that has puzzled me (and usually others) for awhile. I usually have them about my feelings or worries, but this time it was about my inability to read. Just hear me out.

I’ve been noticing over the past few years that my reading skills have been (even less than) subpar. I remember plenty of times in college when my roommate Becky would ask me about an email that we both received earlier that day. Maybe it was about a meeting we both were attending or something, but for whatever reason the information from the email would be mentioned

Either she or I would say the time or place or another important piece of information, and the other would question said information. A second check of the email would always prove that I had read the email wrong or seemingly not at all.

Baby reading gif

You would think that after this happening multiple times, I would learn from my mistakes, read the messages twice or slow down or something. But to no avail, over 3 years later, I continue to misread emails, text messages, articles, etc. It has come to be a joke between my fiancé and I (as it was between my roommate and I) that I have a reading problem or disability or whatever you want to call it.

So in all seriousness, I can read; I am literate. I don’t have a (diagnosed) reading disability and I excelled in school. Yes, I have always had dumb moments where I simply glanced at a note or something and did not actually take in the information on it. But then I started realizing that my reading began to jump all over the place; instead of beginning at the first word on the left side of the top line, reading each word from left-to-right, going from one line to the next, I noticed that I would read the first few lines, skip a few sentences or paragraphs, and then work my way backwards.

What the hell? Why in anyone’s name would someone read like that? This past year I read an article for grad school about the F-shaped pattern of reading web content. This isn’t the article I read, but it’s got the same information…or does it? How much do you trust me now? But then again, according to the studies on this reading pattern, I most likely lost you back in paragraph #2.

F-shaped eye tracking web reading pattern

Super interesting, huh? Do you notice that you do the same thing? As interesting and seemingly innate as this pattern is, that still doesn’t necessarily describe why I would skip multiple paragraphs and then work my way backwards.

And then I realized something. While trying to keep track of a Twitter Talk run by TED-Ed (#TedEdChat), I found myself scrolling down to where the talk began, then reading each subsequent tweet that proceeded it. From bottom…to top. I was essentially reading backwards.

And that’s how it is on Twitter…and Facebook…oh my gosh, timelines!

In timeline formatted websites, new information is at the top and, sometimes, in order to understand the more recent stuff, you need to scroll down and read older posts. Then you work your way back up to the top in order to get the whole story.

Bert Mind Blown

This whole time I just chalked up these issues that seemed to pop up in college to skimming and trying to rush through the documents. And yes, there are times where I actually do know I read something too fast and did not actually take in the information as deeply as I needed to. And I have gotten a bit better at stopping myself, asking whether I could recite this back to someone, and (because usually my answer is a big fat NO) then I go back and reread the information slowly.

But I still think these media outlets that gained popularity when I finished high school have actually been hurting my reading ability.

I grew up without email until about middle school, and even then it was sporadic because not all kids had computers at home, so teachers and schools thought it was unfair to use computers as the main source of communication.

I didn’t have cell phone until I was about 14 or 15. And it was big ol’ Tracfone, only slightly smaller than Zach Morris’ brick of a phone. There was no ‘unlimited texting’ or surfing the web or apps to download. There was nothing smart about it, so just imagine how little I used it.

Facebook didn’t catch on for most of my friends and me until we graduated high school because back then it was still exclusive to college students. So I was 17 when I got a Facebook account.

I didn’t get a Twitter account until I was 21. I didn’t regularly use it until I was 23 (last year).

 *This seems to be turning into a “When I was a youngster, we had to walk 15 miles to school, in the snow, up hill and back…” type thing, so I apologize.*

When I was your age...

For the majority of my life, everything was written to be consumed from the top left-hand side, taken one line at a time, until you got to the end of the page or document. Now that I’ve introduced a different way of gaining information (through Tweets and status updates), I think I’ve messed up my processor. *Insert ‘old hardware, new software’ metaphor here*

Websites are full of content and can be consumed in an infinite number of ways and methods. You can choose to read the status updates, or you can wish someone a happy birthday, or click on the article Buzzfeed posted, or check out your own profile, or look at  your friends newly posted pictures…

But classic novels cannot be read this way; letters and emails don’t make sense if we consume them the same way we consume and interact with web pages. So I wonder: if they have hurt my ability, how have kids growing up with nothing but these kinds of “resources” been affected? And how might this affect them in the future? I mean, is it even more difficult for kids who grew up with this kind of technology exposure from a young age? How do they work with English Literature class readings? How do they cope with passages that are more than 140 characters?

Maybe those classic works of literature will become more and more obsolete as the field of computer science continues to grow. But we still need to have a firm grasp on the ‘old’ way of reading since news and research articles are still written this way and it would become really frustrating if they were written in small blurbs as are Tweets and status updates.

Anyways, now that I think I have a firmer grasp on my issue, I hope I will be more aware of my reading and take care to properly consume and digest information based on the format in which I receive it. No more of this backward nonsense! Does anyone else deal with this problem? If not this specific problem (reading backwards and such), do you notice that you read with an F-shaped pattern as the article states?

My First WordPress Conference: WordCamp Raleigh 2013

This past weekend I went to North Carolina for WordCamp Raleigh. This was my first time in North Carolina and my first time ever attending a WordPress conference. I’ve never attended a conference that wasn’t for church youth groups or K-12 teachers, so this was a totally new experience for me.WordCamp-Raleigh-Banner

My fiance, Tom, was set to speak at the conference, so I wanted to go and support him as well as learn some stuff along the way. Tom works for WooThemes, a WordPress platform provider that offers a wide selection of themes and plugins for website developers, bloggers, and businesses (among others). So he has a lot of insight on all things WordPress, as well as a whole ton of general software engineer (AKA computer programmer) knowledge.

I was actually pretty nervous about going. I mean, I am going to school to be a middle/high school math teacher. Sure, I’ve had this blog for 8 months, and I’ve been learning a lot since we’ve been working on our wedding website, but I was worried that everyone at the conference would be of Tom’s caliber. So I  wouldn’t be able to connect with anyone because they would all be too knowledgeable and I would be uninteresting and unrelatable.

I told Tom my concerns before going but he reassured me that there were people from all levels, all backgrounds, and all ages that I would not be left out. I figured I was going to see Tom speak, so that was the main focus. Anything I learned and any connections I made would be a bonus.

I can honestly say that I am so glad I went – it was a great learning experience and I met a lot of cool people! Plus I got to see Tom in his natural habitat with a bunch of computer-enthusiasts. And I got to brag that I was with him. Win-win.

I’ll admit that I was a bit lost during some of the outside conversations when Tom was with other programmers. So I mostly sat back and listened or kept to myself because there was no way I would have any sort of input on the subject. This was sometimes discouraging because of my previous reservations about attending the conference. But there was always another conversation going on close by that I could slide into if I felt I could contribute.

Overall, the workshops/sessions that I went to were great. They used #wcraleigh so that everyone could connect and get insight on other talks, pull quotes from the different speakers, and give updates about their conference experience. Needless to say I used Twitter more in those 6 hours than I have in months. And it reminds me of how great social media can be. And also how annoying. But I won’t get into that so I don’t end up offending anyone.

In one of the sessions I attended, I learned that there actually exist plugins that allow you to drag and drop elements, making layout construction/manipulation so much easier! I can’t tell you how many times, while working on our wedding website, I’ve looked at it and said, “I want this here, and that to move there…” The problem is that I don’t know how to code all that, so I usually just accept the way it is and try to get over it. But this weekend the heavens opened and now I’m going to give the plugin a spin.

And I realized that I am not the only one who was blown away by this; the majority of those in attendance were making noises of exasperation, relief, excitement…so many noises that just made it known that this was not something we all were aware of. So I know that I speak for most of the people at this session when I say thank you Brett Bumeter for the insight! He tweeted out his slides, so check them out to get an idea of what he talked about. If you’re interested, the one I found to be most helpful was Page Layout Builder.

I also went to a talk by Hal Goodtree that focused on creating content as a blogger while thinking and writing like a publisher. This session was really informative, covering the best approaches, techniques, and plugins, so I plan to employ plenty of those suggestions to be a better blogger.

And, of course, I went to Tom’s talk which focused on sliders. I had been keeping up with the #wcraleigh hashtag throughout the day and was getting ready to post a picture of Tom giving his talk. I noticed that a couple of people had tweeted kind of negative views on sliders towards the beginning of his presentation. There was nothing negative about Tom, but I was surprised to find that for some reason some people just do not like sliders and see no point or place for them on websites. tom wordcamp

Funny enough, by the end of his talk, a few people tweeted about having changed their view and that Tom might have convinced them to use a slider for their blog! I’m really proud of him for getting so involved in his trade (this was the third WordCamp he spoke at this year) and putting himself out there to inform others of what he’s learning.

One decision I made over the weekend was that I want to move this blog from to .org. Now that I know what I’m doing a little more and have been using WordPress pretty consistently, I’ve realized how limited I am with a .com blog. I’ve gotten more familiar with plugins and CSS since working on our wedding website, so I’m realizing how little I can do to customize my own blog, unless I pay to upgrade in WordPress. And that’s been driving me nuts. So that will definitely be changing soon.

If you’re interested in checking out future WordCamps, look at the schedule here. They are held all over the world – USA, South America, India…everywhere! And the registration doesn’t cost much, honestly. Everyone working and speaking at the event are volunteers – none of them are getting paid to put this together. That shows their dedication and enthusiasm for the realm of WordPress, right?

So if there’s one close to you and you would like to learn more about WordPress and connect with cool people that want to do the same, I would highly recommend that you do it! Now excuse me while I go become an awesome blogger…