Sideband #5: Reading Backwards

Have you noticed how blogs and emails are training us to read backwards? Or if you want to read forwards, you have to go to the bottom and read upwards?

Blogging sites post your most recent post first and the oldest (that fits on the page) at the bottom. If you come to a site for the first time and read posts from top to bottom, you’re reading backwards in the order of their posting.  If you wanted to read them in chronological order, you’d have to find the oldest and read upwards.

Most modern email packages do something similar with email “threads” (that is, a chain of replies). The original email is at the bottom, the most recent is at the top. You have the choice of reading backwards in time or going to the bottom and reading upwards.

Reading backwards has some interesting effects when newer text references something said earlier. You have to cache some answers with the assumption that further down the road you’ll find the questions. Actually, it’s a bit like that fascinating movie, Memento.

Back in the ancient history of the internet, email and posts used a technique we called “quoting”. The attempt was to build a sort of conversation from the original text and replies. You still sometimes encounter a form of it on sites designed to facilitate interaction. It went something like this:

Imagine that someone had made the following post (the original author is in black; various replying authors are in other colors):

I finally saw Memento last night! It was amazing.  Really cool movie.  Hard to believe that’s the same guy that did the Batman movies!

After several people had replied, it might look like this (the colors are just to help make sense of it; color hadn’t been invented back then):

>>>>>> I finally saw Memento last night! It was amazing.  Really cool movie.
>>>>> Well, it’s about time; don’t you know it came out in 2000?
>>>> Ah, lighten up, not everyone sees movies as soon as they came out.
>>> I guess, but geeze, the movie’s 11 years old and he’s just seeing it now?
>> Better late than never, right?
> At least now you know what everyone was talking about!
Yes, you’re right, but I’ve been overseas.  Didn’t have access to many things!

>>>>>> Hard to believe that’s the same guy that did the Batman movies!
>>>> Have you seen The Prestige?  That’s one of my favorites.
>> He also did Insomnia, which is pretty good, too.
I’ll have to check that out, thanks!

Which could get a little crazy!  But it was fun, and it did read like a conversation.

I guess you have to adapt now and learn to either read backwards or get in the habit of going to the bottom and reading upwards.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

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