June 1, 2010
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Carr again

Nick Carr thinks links are distracting and is encouraging publications to eschew them lest they damage our brains.

He calls this “delinkification”.

If you find links distracting, don’t display them. Turn them off while you read. Your Web browser can do it. Any decent web browser can do that, even MSIE. It's called a user style sheet. Anyone can do this. Do you? Does anyone you know?

If you are that easily distracted, maybe you are not doing what you ought to be doing. Plenty of people read books with bad typography. Plenty of people read handwritten manuscripts, and books written in strange languages, and even books with equations and stuff. We used to call these people, “educated”. We used to call these people, “folks with work that needs doing.”

Delinkification indeed.

Carr writes, "You may not notice the little extra cognitive load placed on your brain, but it's there and it matters. People who read hypertext comprehend and learn less, studies show, than those who read the same material in printed form."
He's mistaken. The "cognitive load" canard comes from a good review article that Jeff Conklin wrote in 1986. It was plausible at the time. There's no good evidence. The additional cognitive load that studies sometimes reveal comes (a) bad writing, and (b) additional information. That’s it. End of story. We’ve been a bit lax in letting people publish these "hypertext is hard to read" studies without really proving their case. Most of them, however, are either very early or appear in marginal journals.