Problems with Non-linear thought

Non-linear thought is the process of multitasking.  When a person attempts to do two things at once such as driving while talking on the phone, or reading emails while talking on the phone.  These things require the use of similar parts of the brain, so while the brain is attempting to process one task we force it to process another causing what is known as “switching cost”.

In Hypertext 3.0, the author explains how hypertext de-centers the experience of reading, providing the reader the ability to make their own connections between seemingly unrelated passages.  This is done through the use of links embedded in the text itself.  These links can then be navigated through at the discretion of the reader.  A problem with this is that the reader sees a link, clicks on that link, reads the material then goes back to the original passage or perhaps continues on an avenue of never going back to the original passage but continuously jumps ahead before finishing any of the passages.

Maggie Jackson explains, in her book Distracted, “When we multitask, we are like swimmers diving into a state of focus, resurfacing to switch gears or reassess the environment, then diving again to resume focus. … But no matter how practiced we are at either of the tasks we are undertaking, the back and forth produces ‘switch costs,’ as the brain takes time to change goals, remember the rules needed for the new task, and block out cognitive interference from the previous, still valid activity.”

This is essentially what we are doing when reading hypertext works, we jump from one passage which is partially finished to a new unrelated passage, which then provides difficulty when going back to the previous part.  In doing so after returning to the original, we must then conjure up what was read before jumping ahead.  In work and in play non-linear thinking causes decreased productivity when doing anything.

Imagine reading a book, then turning to a computer to check the score of a game which you are interested in, then jumping back into the book.  You (at least i do) need to recall what was just read to understand what is currently being read, this jump might only take a few seconds, but multiply that interruption by say fifty or one hundred more little interruptions, which increases the amount of time one must spend reading the book, and there might be a lost hour.

Jackson claims that switching from project to project, the time spent reconciling what was done before the switch and what is about to be accomplished takes up to twenty five minutes. that could amount to hours of the day lost due to multitasking or thinking non-linearly.

Ultimately, multitasking appears to save us time while realistically causes us to waste hours, the attempt at writing fiction this way decreases the amount of material that is truly understood by a reader, and increases the amount of time spent reading a piece.

Jackson, Maggie. Distracted. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2008. Print.

~ by garyhitchins on February 15, 2010.

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