These days, practically everyone turns to the internet to get informed or to be entertained. And while most of us are somewhat aware of how potentially detrimental it can be health-wise to spend excessive amounts of time staring at screens, a new study suggests that the type of low-quality content we consume online by browsing social media and clickbait websites may be more of a concern than most of us would probably think.
Researchers found that the quality and complexity of what people choose to read from a variety of sources — online, books, text messages and so on — had a close correlation to the quality of their writing skills. In other words, if 90 percent of what an individual reads all day is full of internet slang, abbreviations, emojis, hashtags and sloppy spelling or grammar, then they likely won’t be capable of producing written content anywhere near the comparable quality of writing from a novelist or a professional writer.
To examine the effects of content consumption on people’s writing skills, the researchers took writing samples from 65 adult participants and asked them about their reading habits, including which sources and mediums they used the most (like the internet, books, newspapers, etc). The quality of the writing samples provided by the participants was then matched up to the quality of writing samples taken from the content sources they claimed to use the most, which was achieved by using algorithm-based software.
The results weren’t surprising. It turns out that what people choose to read strongly reflects how well they’re able to write. The participants who claimed to spend their time reading higher quality and more complex sources of content demonstrated higher quality and more complex writing skills in their written samples. Likewise, those who spent most of their time reading lower quality and less complex sources showed lower quality and less complex writing than those who spent their time ready high-quality sources.
The study suggests that there’s merely a link between content quality from reading sources and writing performance — not necessarily proving that content quality causes good or bad writing. The results also don’t mean that we should all stop looking at listicles, memes, GIFs, our Facebook friends’ status posts or any other bite-sized forms of quick online stimulation for the sake of our cognitive abilities.
If anything, this study is a good reminder that we all need to be far more mindful of what we’re choosing to consume online not just for mental health reasons, but also for unnecessarily wasting time too. After all, it’s no fun when you sit down at your computer desk to pay some bills online only to find yourself reading the 27th tweet in an angry celebrity’s tweetstorm on Twitter 45 minutes later.
So, what can we do? Well, to start, here are a few good ideas:
- Limit your time spent on social media and other entertaining websites to just a few minutes, once or twice a day.
- Spend more time reading long-form content that’s useful and informative from high-quality online sources (like reputable websites and blogs) as well as offline sources (like books and magazines).
- Set the intention to take care of your grammar and spelling even when texting, posting on social media or leaving a quick comment online.
- Practice writing by journaling about your day, expressing your feelings through words, problem solving or simply telling a story you’d like to tell.
In today’s super fast-paced world where our attention spans are getting shorter and our lives are becoming busier, you can expect that all sorts of content platforms are ready and willing to make their content more enticing and distracting than ever by sacrificing quality for readership. If we can remain aware of this, we can also become better at navigating through the mixture of low-, medium-, and high-quality content that’s fighting for our attention all at once.