Today’s hot meme in the blogosphere is this notion, now heavily Slashdotted, that readers can easily make sense of passages of verbiage in which the words’ letters have been scrambled as long as the first and last letters of each word are left intact. Try it — everyone else in blog-land has!
Waht tihs tlles us, of csuore, is taht cxonett is ideblrnciy intmorapt to our criepoehmnosn of txet.
(And that, as you can see from the above sentence, this approach is tougher to use as the length of words increases.)
This novelty occasioned a few thoughts:
(1) The human brain is much more forgiving than most software, at least today’s software. Fuzzy math may help. Google is getting good at suggesting what you really meant when you misspell a query.
(2) This is why we miss typos. I spent a significant portion of my college years proofreading newspaper paste-up boards, and still spend a lot of time editing on computer screen, and if you’ve ever done this sort of editing work properly, your eyes behave differently from the normal reader, and you notice tiny transpositions and goofs that a typical eye will simply pass over. (This is why Don’s Amazing Puzzle was not amazing to me. I caught it the first time I looked at it back when Dave Winer first presented it. Not because I’m a sharpie but because I’ve worked as a copy editor.) For anyone who reads this way, interpreting words scrambled in this fashion can actually be harder — because you’re trained to see what’s actually there, not what your eye thinks should be there.
(3) Reading slowly is a dying art. As our world pushes us inevitably towards more speedy skimming of information blasting at us through a dozen different protocols, we scan more than we read. That makes it easy for us to parse near-gibberish, and that capability is a wonderful thing. But reading slowly is a wonderful thing, too. It is an art we still need in a number of areas. Reading poetry requires the ability to read slowly. If you read a poem the way you read your e-mail, you might as well not bother. Oddly enough, working on computer code requires a similar ability: Both because the computer is far more unforgiving of typos, bad punctuation and garbled verbiage than the human eye, and also becaause in good code, like good poetry, every word counts, and you need to be able to notice the patterns the words establish.
(Catch the typo in that last sentence?)
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