New Forms: Hyperlinked, Hashtagged and Lateral Reading

We (yes you too!) need to expand our ability to read differently!

There I said it! Are you upset? Skeptical? Worried? Turned off? Irritated? Intrigued? It does not really matter… Changes to our reading habits are constantly happening and accelerating in comparison to previous speed of changes. Just take my own documentation around reading here on the Langwitches Blog over the past 14 years.

You might be stubborn and be holding on to your old reading habits, because…

  • you just looove the small of paper 😉
  • it has worked for you this long, so it might as well work for you longer…
  • frankly the online world and digital information sources scare you and you better stick to what you are comfortable with…
  • you don’t like changes…

Just give me a few more seconds of your time, before you dismiss my statement: We have to gain skills and fluency in reading differently.

I am talking about learning to read (and then develop fluency) in a hyperlinked and hashtagged form as well as in a lateral style.

What’s lateral reading?

We have been taught (in Western languages) to read left to right and up to down. We have been taught to use words that make sentences. Punctuations will signal the end of a sentence. Sentences should form paragraphs. An empty line makes us aware that a new paragraph and a new thought or idea is about to start. Paragraphs make up chapters in a book. We turn pages with our right hand to move from the first page to the last page. On the last page, the last punctuation mark after the last word, in the last sentence of the last paragraph signals the end of the book.

Instead of moving up to down, you are moving lateral, from tab to tab

“Instead of asking, why read laterally, we should consider: what do we lose when we don’t read laterally, when we passively scroll information feeds and accept what seems to be true and dismiss what seems to be wrong.”

“Reading that way gives misinformation and disinformation more power. It allows people to hijack your consciousness, and it also makes you part of the problem.”

John Green in CrashCourse
John Green is going to teach you how to read laterally, using multiple tabs in your browser to look stuff up and fact check as you read. Real-time fact-checking an help you figure out what’s real and what’s not on the internet.

“The World Wide Web demands we utilize a new kind of reading to evaluate information. One that is very different how we read books or newspapers. Because there is no beginning or end to the web. Vertical reading doesn’t work, because it’s not vertical, it’s a web.”

John Green in CrashCourse

Hyperlinked Reading

When we read digitally, most likely we will stumble upon text or images that are underlined, in a different color, and/or will change our cursor from an arrow to a pointing hand when moved over the link. This indicates to the reader that there is a link attached to that text or image, that when clicked upon will take us to a different location on the web or prompt us to download a given file.

If we read digitally on a phone or tablet with our fingers or a stylus as a “clicking” device, we might have to do without previous notice of where the hyperlinked text/image/media might take us. Also, with more design styles and choices, many websites opt to not use an underlining style for an embedded link in text, nor will they use a traditional blue color to indicate an embedded link.

In order to be an informed and prepared hyperlinked reader, it is good to know where potential links will connect you to:

  • to another web page/URL
  • to a specific location within a web page or document (anchor)
  • to a file that will prompt you to download to your device
  • to a larger version of an image thumbnail
  • to a crowdsourced conversation (hashtag link)

When reading digitally, I am expecting the author to have written with hyperlinks. I see hyperlinks as a form of bibliography, a way to connect the writing to the “outside world”, to prove that what the author has written does not exist in a vacuum. I am increasingly suspicious as a digitally reader, when I read pure text, without links, online. [ incidentally… I have not included many hyperlinks in this blog post… I simply can’t find many resources around hyperlinked reading… writing yes, but not much about reading]

When I am reading digitally, no matter on a computer, tablet or phone, I will read lateral, as described above. I use command-(or CTRL)- click to open the link in a new tab to literally create a breadcrumb trail of tabs with the ability to be able to backtrack to the original article and tangents along the way. On my iPhone and iPad, I will hold my finger down an extra second on the link and a drop down gives me the choice to “open in new tab”

Hyperlinked reading is not meant to be linear, it is all about following tangents that can take you down the proverbial rabbit hole, if you are not careful. Hyperlinked reading is about a sense of direction. Make sure you are able to trace your steps (backwards, forwards and sideways), as you keep clicking on new links, within the new sites that you landed on.

As mentioned above, the usage of tabs in your browser is your best friend. So, can bookmarklets and other browser extensions (Ex. for Pinterest, for Pocket, for Diigo, for Wakelet) in your browser, that allow you to save and later on curate the links that you have followed.

In summary, hyperlinked reading is about:

  • NOT getting lost, as you are being sent from here to there.
  • non-linear reading
  • alternative routes to content reading that might (or might not) circle back to were you started.
  • leaving breadcrumbs to be able to find your way back.
  • teaching you to continue reading, instead of having finished an article, post, or book after the last punctuation mark.
  • being able to follow links to “follow a conversation” that is threaded on Twitter.
  • understanding how some links are created automatically, for example if the writer uses a hashtag or tags or categorizes on a blog.
  • knowing about click-bait.

Hashtagged Reading

Hashtags are the #-signs placed in front of words or phrases (all spelled together) . The pound sign will automatically create a link on social media platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Once the reader clicks on the hyperlinked hashtag, they connect to other posts on that social media channel who have also included the same hashtag in their post.

On Instagram, the reader is able to not only search for a hashtag, but can also follow a specific hashtag. Once followed, the posts that use the hashtag will be included in the reader’s feed. On Twitter, one can use Tweetdeck, in order to create columns that will let the reader filter specific hashtags. On Pinterest and Facebook, you can search for other posts that mention a specific hashtag.

In summary, hashtagged reading is about:

  • having a feel for hashtags strategically used to link information, conversation and related content (ex. #documenting4learning) and hashtags used to make a humorous point as part of the communication (ex. #Icantbelieveitstrue)
  • recognizing when a hashtag has been hijacked by spammers and being able to skip reading over the spammers’ posts.
  • understanding that hashtagged links take you to a crowdsourced posts from a variety of authors who have used that same hashtag, but that you don’t follow and don’t necessarily follow each other either.
  • a potential backchannel for transmedia conversation (ex. when a television program encourages viewers to use a specific hashtag to interact or talk about the program on social media channels)
  • looking for content-like usage of other hashtags to connect and amplify search results. (can’t search for what I don’t know what I don’t know, until someone else makes the connection) If I use hashtag x, what other hashtags do others use in addition to hashtag x?
  • knowing about the power of social tagging- folksonomy
  • creating a community around a common interest.
  • developing fluency when reading hashtags and using hyperlinked reading skills (see above) to continue reading the crowdsourced content of other posts connected via that hashtag.
  • reading multi-layered (dimensional?), non-linear and multi-directional when hashtags are embedded in the flow of a digital sentence.

What do you think? What has been your experience in reading lateral, reading hyperlinked and/or in hashtagged reading? Let’s capture our experiences with these new forms of reading? Let’s document where we are (our literacy skills) in this moment in time [at time of writing: January 2020]!