A few puzzle pieces coming together…
A research paper
Fortune favors the bold (and italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes
Defines disfluency as: “the subjective experience of difficulty associated with cognitive operations”
They observe that disfluency leads to deeper processing. They found that information in hard-to-read fonts was better remembered than easier-to-read information.
An Ergodic Game called Normality
In Normality, the game text of this tabletop RPG is intentionally difficult to read, both visually and cognitively.
On Jay Dragon’s patreon, Jay says:
There’s this video I was watching recently talking about the idea of “mental ease”. Which is the idea that neurologically, when you encounter something that is familiar to you, your mind relaxes a little bit. When it’s easier to understand, your mind relaxes a little bit. Like, if you’re looking at a multiple choice quiz, the one that feels the most natural to you on first glance is probably going to be right because your cognitive space can identify that before you can.
But what they’ve found is that if they take questions that are non-intuitive, like, a question on a physics quiz where the answers oft-times go against common sense, and they write it in a font that is harder to read, people are more likely to get the question correct. Because, when you encounter something that is very familiar for you, and very eases-you-in, it can challenge you, you can be challenged that way, but it also gives you this ease.
I think that making something that is intentionally uneasy puts you out of your comfort zone, in a traditional way, and I don’t think you should be forced out of your comfort zone per se, but I think that’s the interesting part of Normality for me, is that it is a game that shoves you outside your comfort zone, shoves you outside of a familiar space, and puts you in a spot where the text is difficult and disquieting so you have to kind of pick at it and understand it, It lets you get at a deeper level of subconscious understanding than you would if the text really clearly glided you through.
A random theory about Millennials & Gen Z
I’ve hypothesized to a few friends that Millennials are part of a unique generational time-period that made them uniquely the best generation at handling digital tools. Controversially, I would argue, better than Gen Z, who’s grown up with digital tools and the internet and smartphones since their memories formed.
The idea is that in the 90s and 00s, digital tools were hard to use. Menus were obscured, UIs were not easy, and you had to go hunting through layers of menus and widgets and garbage to find the function you wanted in a program.
These days, digital UIs are clean. They’re user-friendly and billions of dollars get poured by tech companies into ensuring no user has to go hunting for something unintuitive. Gen Z has grown up with these clean UIs. Whereas Millennials learned how to learn and deal with tough tools, Gen Z is surprisingly non-fluent in finding something hard-to-find in a digital tool.
Millennials have learned to go looking. Gen Z has not.
Note to self: is there any research to back up this random anecdotal theory I have?
Feedback about writing
I recently said the following to a friend when they asked for feedback on a piece of writing. Some folks gave feedback that the writing’s tone came across as aggressive and abrasive. I think that’s valuable:
I think you should think very carefully about what you want to say, but to not shy away from being bold and saying things that you want people to turn over in their head, ponder for themselves, and evaluate for themselves. Watered-down language and tone is easy for readers to glide on through at a very surface level. Tone is one of your writer’s tools for defining how strongly you engage with your reader, which on some level is a reciprocal relationship and defines how strongly they engage with you back.
I don’t put a lot of stock in the idea of “you should cater to readers who will be turned off / closed off from reading if they read something strongly worded they disagree with.” Adding qualifiers to your opinions or statements you want people to explore and engage with and think about is going to make the writing weaker. Tone creates emotion in your reader. It grabs them in and shakes them up and asks them to feel things. It makes you feel in a way when an author uses a tone. That’s incredible. It’s art. It’s not an academic text, you as the author have feelings and you want to make the reader listen and hear you and feel you. Own it.
I personally believe that authors shouldn’t cater to lazy readers. If you don’t want to think about how you as the reader feel about something, that’s on you, but don’t complain that it’s the author’s fault for not laying everything out for you like a breakfast buffet for you to just gobble up without thinking critically about why it’s being said. A good author, in my opinion, asks the reader to critically engage and have the reader ask themself “do I agree? Why? What stances of mine does this engage with? What does it support or revoke?” and so on.