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.