Blog articles on my WordPress Reader started appearing with an estimated reading time (ERT) tucked at the bottom left-hand corner, about two weeks ago. So, for example, my blog posts looked like this.
Many writers I know, including myself, lean towards verbosity. We are in love with our words. When you are in love, words are harder to kill. A blog post may therefore take hours to complete. As Samuel Jackson notes, “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” At first, it was jarring to see work that took me seventy-two hours to produce reduced to a three-minute read, word count notwithstanding. But this is the reality of life online; writers have much to share, readers have little attention to spare. Erik Qualman caps the average person’s attention span at seven seconds, one second less than a goldfish’s eight seconds.
If the first three sentences of an article is followed by: read 1827 more words, only several things make me continue reading—familiarity with the author, curiosity occasioned by a superb opening line, the title, prior knowledge or interest in the subject, or a referral.
Time is like a loaf of bread, there are only so many slices I can cut. My life is characterized by acute time rationing—ever heard that time waits for no man? It is as if the world is spinning faster and faster on its axis and I am getting dizzier and dizzier from information pollution. How long, thus becomes a valid question.
I mean, if completion is my goal, then time is often the decider between a three-course meal and a sandwich-to-go at lunch break or between a 500-page novel and a collection of short stories on a one-hour flight. Would you watch a YouTube video without checking its length?
I find myself liking ERT appended to blog articles. ERT on platforms like Longreads and Medium helps me narrow my plethora of reading options. ERT even trumps word count in my view because it makes mathematics unnecessary i.e. dividing total number of words by average reading speed.
Similarly, in making a case for why we find listicles appealing, Maria Konnikova notes that an article written as a numbered list, “. . . promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront. Together, these create an easy reading experience, in which the mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption—. . . And there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data.”
She writes, “The more we know about something—including precisely how much time it will consume—the greater the chance we will commit to it. The process is self-reinforcing: we recall with pleasure that we were able to complete the task (of reading the article) instead of leaving it undone and that satisfaction, in turn, makes us more likely to click on lists again—even ones we hate-read. The social psychologist Robert Zajonc, who made his name studying the connection between emotion and cognition, argued that the positive feeling of completion in and of itself is enough to inform future decisions. Preferences, goes his famous coinage, need no inferences.”
I cannot help but draw parallels, unscientific they may be, between these observations about listicles and the value of knowing ERT upfront. Hampered by time, ERT helps me choose what to read now and what to save for later.
When Slate introduced ERT, this 3.5-minute video mocked Millennials’ propensity to want to know everything now.
Two years on, and I think Slate was on to something. Do you think blog articles should display estimated reading time?
©Timi Yeseibo 2015
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
32 thoughts on “Time to Read”
I remember when I used to sit/lye down to read a good book and I would start and finish it. Now-a-day it takes me forever. I like your mention of information pollution, because that’s just it. People don’t have time any more. Plus as strange as it may sound, information is addictive. There is so much available now that it’s tough to narrow down what to read and what not to read.
I remember too… where did time go? 😦
The quote below is from an interesting article that claims that in the days to come location would be more important than attention on the internet. For now, the quotes still holds true:
“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
Tell me about it. The older I get, it seems a week rushes by like it was just a day.
Oh yes, that quote does still hold true, but isn’t that interesting about the location thing. Thanks for sharing that article. I just read it.
LikeLiked by 1 person
No, posting reading time for a blog post isn’t realistic. It won’t be used properly. I tend to skim read. Like you, I like to work on taming my verbosity.
You’ll see my upcoming post ..where it will QUITE different in terms of words and composition. Totally different than what I’ve ever written/composed.
Thanks Jean for weighing in.
@ realistic, do you say this because people read for different purposes and at different speeds? I’m curious about what you mean when you say it won’t be used properly.
Okay, looking forward to seeing your new blogging style. 🙂
My choice of reading material has, recently, been constricted to writers I love and recommendations from people whose taste I respect. I would sooner read a 4000-word piece in The New Yorker than many 500 word pieces on some blogs.
ERT rarely does anything for me, but I can’t say it should be banished on the basis of that, considering how much it helps other people. In the end, I think it has little effect on even those who seem to like it. Recommendations rank very close to the top influencers of our reading habits—lengths notwithstanding.
Now, please excuse me while I go look for some goldfish to interrogate on how to improve this erratic attention span of mine.
@ Recommendations rank very close to the top influencers of our reading habits—lengths notwithstanding, I agree. Still, in a world of competing alternatives and limited time, we must choose….
This thing with the goldfish reminded me of the TV remote control. Once we had a device that made it easier to check other TV channels without the inconvenience of rising from the sofa, we ‘flicked’ away 🙂
I foresee ERT growing in popularity on the internet…
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for the education, Timi. I wasn’t aware of the ERT on blog posts. I only post, respond to comments and read other wonderful blogs, like yours. I don’t pay attention to the stats, and I try to ignore all of the funky WP changes. 🙂
You’re welcome Jill. 🙂
I never noticed the ERT. Interesting notion. I also am not sure how I feel about this.
Interesting indeed. Writing for some platforms online has sensitized me to ERT, etc.
Thanks for this post.
For a while I have been pondering on the issue of time and our estimation of it’s value.
My take-away from your post is this: people now have the opportunity to know the estimated amount of time they will have to exchange for the value I claim to offer in my blog post. I must make their time worth the value they get after reading my post. That is the only way I can expect them to come back and possibly spare me more of their time.
I like what you’re saying- that a writer should aspire to make the time readers spend on their blogs worthwhile. It is what I hope to achieve as well.
@estimation of the value of time, I once heard someone say that we exchange time for anything we want on earth.
LikeLiked by 2 people
WordPress is always toying with the layout. Now I am directed to a halfway page that contains the entire post but not the graphics. WTF WordPress. Stop fixing what isn’t broke. And get off my lawn!
By the way, now I know why I always lose staring contests to goldfish.
@WordPress, I liked the old Stats page… they changed it.
@goldfish, lol. 🙂
ERT- Estimated Reading Time? Not quite sure how I feel about it. I tend to peruse articles really quickly to determine when, where or if at all I’ll read. A cursory glance will often tell me whether to bother or not.
For the most part, if it’s interesting ( like most NYTimes articles often are), I’ll book mark and return at a more convenient time.
ERT just might put me off alltogether. But then again, I’m getting an EReader for my BDay in a few weeks. So, who knows?
These are interesting times. It’s very few of us who still bother to read words beyond 140.
Another exciting topic Timi…
Hmmm… so you enjoy articles from the NY Times? Imagine you had seven articles to choose from on a 10-minute commute. I guess ERT would help narrow your choice. But then again, experience may help you estimate using a cursory glance.
ERT has its place. I miss those days, long ago, when I had all the time in the world to read.
I find that I’m not necessarily reading less though. If I add all the FB posts, tweets, blog posts, emails, web articles, etc, I read, they could amount to around 25,000 words on a good day. Lol@ 140 words 🙂
Enjoy your Ereader, it’s great for long reads.
I’m no newbie to book reading apps but what made Blinkist™ a love at first sight and permanent keep was the ERT. I mean, what more can I ask for than an app that crunches a whole nonfiction book into a digestible synopsis of salient points for an estimated under-20 mins read? How delightful.
Perhaps this is just about every reader’s approach, subconsiously: Is this piece worth my while; would its length justify my time investment? That, for me, makes your “…writers have much to share, readers have little attention to spare” quite valid, and one of the reasons flash fiction might never stop being a personal favorite. Amidst other things, it all seems like a both-your-time-and-mine-are-less-likely-wasted guarantee.
So yes, in ERT I see far more of a plus than otherwise.
Why am I beginning to reckon with this on a bigger canvas: How more deliberate and prudent would we become with the length of our days if we knew our estimated er, living time?
(How ironic, I’ve expended this many words to limn the idea of brevity. 😊)
But thanks Timi, again, for giving something (more) to think about.
When you mentioned Blinkist, this came to mind: “. . . And there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data.”
Yes @flash fiction especially if one is writing for the web- blogs and FB, for example. On a practical note, many people read on their cell phones so short articles are ideal.
I like how your thought process is transcending reading and writing. I mean whether we know our estimated living time or not, life is finite- we’d do well to use our time wisely.
@ironic, lol. But you needed that much words to make your point anyhow 🙂
ERT helps us decide whether to commit or not, at least in the short term.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Reblogged this on Musings of an Heteroclite.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Let me start this way,
If i want to take a ride from say Amsterdam to Berlin, the first thing on my mind is ‘how long is the trip’? This happens most times even before i check the cost of the trip. If you need to fly from say Lagos to Heathrow, you do not want to take a flight that would first fly to Dubai, then Istanbul before the U..K (unless you got a free ticket, though).
But, when we pick up a book to read, the first thing we normally check is not the size, it is the story. Long Facebook posts attract hesitated attention unless one can identify with the story.
But then, there are stories we read irrespective of ‘verbosity’. It is all about interest. Writers should also endeavour to help readers maintain interest by writing in a way that keeps attention.
I read this blog post (twice now) because it is interesting.
An ERT is good, but to me, it takes away the beauty and fun of reading. Let us keep reading in the old way, but let those that write, write with the reader in mind. Once a reader identifies himself or herself in a story, he/she will finish that story…;
Good one Tim!!! (Now you have a new visitor).
LikeLiked by 2 people
Obinna, I’m loving your example about Lagos to Heathrow via Dubai and Istanbul… verbosity at its best, lol! XD
@long FB posts, I know. I don’t associate FB with long reads and sometimes the way the post is laid out is visually unappealing.
You’ve given us writers a tall order. But I agree. Writing is about communicating at the end of the day, though every piece may not have universal appeal. Some stories touch the core of our humanity and cut across geographical boundaries. Others appeal to a particular demographic.
You know, in a way, every time I approach an ‘unfamiliar’ written piece whether online or a paper book, I’m calculating ERT- I’m looking at the size of the book, I’m scrolling down the web page …
Thanks for giving us much to chew. I’m glad you were able to locate yourself in this piece 🙂
Timi, thanks for this very interesting post. I am so hopelessly behind lately and out of the loop that I did not even know about ERT. I think it’s helpful info to have, though I had to smile when I read your words about “leaning toward verbosity” — GUILTY!! I have no idea what my average word count is for my posts, but I bet it’s higher than I realized. I wonder whether there’s any way to check this on the WordPress stats?
Hi Julia, I’ve noticed that your posts hover around 200 – 400 words in general. I’ve only seen very few longer posts 🙂 I think you communicate effectively. I especially like the quotes you open with and build your posts around.
When you upload your article on your WordPress dashboard or even write directly (Add Post), you should see the word count at the bottom of the page. Your reader also shows word count, like in the snips of my reader I included in this post.
I use MS Word and it displays word count. I guess any word processor would do same.
I noticed the ERT too, I think it’s a rather delightful addition by WP.
Well, with the abbreviated formats of Twitter and Instagram, I find that people now have even less than the attention span of a baby goldfish, which I suppose is roughly half of 8 seconds given it’s still-growing brain, lol .
For lovers of words (Wordsmiths), it’s hard to “kill words” like you said, and compress ones thoughts simply to prevent boring the readers. Truth be told, I find that my posts amuse me just as much as it does my readers (including my mother) and sometimes I write with myself in mind.
I am learning to find a balance, I realise that there are three categories of readers who visit my blog- The ones who are interested in the ‘musings’ portion of the post, The ones who are interested in the ‘sewing process’ and The ones who are interested in the ‘finished garment’.
It is my sincere wish that all three find a portion in the post that’s ERT-friendly to them 😀
Have a nice week.
LikeLiked by 3 people
It’s great that you’ve identified who your readers are and you’re able and willing to cater to their needs. Someone has said that we blog because we want to communicate. I guess part of communication is understanding your audience.
@kill words, it can be difficult right? I say that I write for people like me. If my behaviour online is anything to go by, I have to slash, slash, slash my words. XD
We’re being ‘trained’ to have shorter attention spans … just look at how we chat using abbreviated word forms and emoticons … 🙂
Yes to ERT, it helps simplify the decision-making process.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t see a downside to including ERT on cyber postings or EVT on cyber videos ~ anyone who doesn’t want that information can ignore it.
I prefer to commit only after I understand the breadth and depth of the commitment. As you note: “Time is like a loaf of bread, there are only so many slices I can cut.”
LikeLiked by 3 people
Time is our most valuable and irreplaceable commodity ~ a bank account which mandates daily withdrawals, prohibits deposits, and pays dividends when we spend it wisely.
LikeLiked by 3 people
In the Colbert Report video, they make fun of people wanting to know ERT upfront by making a caricature of clicking the link and skimming the article, a process which takes roughly 8 seconds. But attention is the currency of the web. All the stimuli is designed to grab and hold attention. Knowing how much your attention will cost you upfront then becomes important, I guess.
As at the time I published this post, I hadn’t yet read anything from WordPress about the rationale behind appending ERT on blog posts. It did seem as though they were experimenting because at a point, some posts appeared without ERT.
These kinds of things interest me. I’m fascinated by how we communicate and consume information in the age of the internet.
I like what you said about time. It makes me think beyond reading and writing.
I read what I can and then skim what I can’t. I openly tell people I wish to be an essayist. I hope to cover numerous topics along with having fun. But seriously posting a cute picture and quote is fun for me, to like and move on, but most of the time I wish to read posts with content. Occasionally covering Mom and my “grandies” with a joke or sense of humor, I hoped to build readers. I may have a large number of followers but my regular and loyal friends, you Timi included, are at most 30 to 40 people. It doesn’t bother me if people stop by only once a month like a magazine article. I like to do this, too. 🙂
@reading and skimming, I think that unless they came to a specific site to read, people tend to skim a lot while online. There’s so much information and so little time. I read a variety of content and tend to save the longer reads for when I have time… if I’m not intentional, I will never have time.
I hope that when people stop by Livelytwist, they find something that makes them read.
You have a loyal following probably because your followers like your content 🙂