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How Information Behaves

Many of us now believe that we cannot do even the most basic daily tasks in our jobs and lives without consulting vast quantities of information, weighing and considering it all. But whether we embrace information or shun it has almost become immaterial. It seems to take hold of our attention whether we like it or not.

What is the focus of the new image infrastructure? Attention. It's all designed for capturing, tracking, quantifying, manipulating, holding, buying, selling, and controlling attention.

—Bruce Mau, Life Style

Michael S. Malone, writing on, used James Burke's phrase to describe the Web's way of attention-grabbing, calling it "The Pinball Effect":

One interesting effect of the Net is that our brains are apparently being rewired to capture information from multiple sources presenting themselves at the same time around a grid.

Compare a typical Web page to a traditional book, painting, even a movie. The Web page is not only visually dancing at the corners thanks to various banners, but is also presenting data in the form of columns, images, scrolling headlines, etc., reaching to every corner of the display. The result is that we don't apprehend the page from left to right, top to bottom (or in the case of a painting, from the center outwards), but by bouncing all over the screen—even passing through the page to another, only to return.

This is a new way of looking at information....

Actually, it's much more than a new way of looking at information. This is the way digital information behaves (see Figure 2). And that understanding is just the tip of a very large iceberg. What's under the surface, presently out of sight, is where it really gets interesting. But knowing its behavior pattern—and the way that pattern affects our ability to pay attention—is fundamental to finding better ways to format information.

We have learned from information design that structure, itself, has meaning and it can affect not only the effectiveness but the meaning of a message.

—Nathan Shedroff, Experience Design

Figure 2Figure 2 Today users pinball around information, bouncing from point of interest to point of interest.

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