Why reading beats video for information and instruction

When I want information or instruction, I want to read it.

The above sentence captures everything I’m going to say in this article but I suppose I should expand on it a bit for clarity.

In general I dislike video help files, podcasts and even televisual news because I can’t ‘skim and skip’ as easily as I can with a written article.

I don’t mind images in written articles. They can be useful when it’s easier or helpful to show somebody something rather than simply tell them it, but I can still skip them and rapidly page down in the article if I already know how to do that bit.

Sure, you can skip forward in a video but it’s a clunky, trial and error process. You don’t know where you might need to be in that video for starters. With written articles you can quickly get a picture of the whole thing and know that you need to jump in halfway down (or whatever) to get the information you’re after.

Televisual news has the same problem. I may not be interested in which particular politician has disgraced himself today, but I have to sit through it to get to the bit where I learn whether or not the panda in China has managed to procreate, which is what I’m interested in.

There are a few exceptions of course. When I last replaced a toilet cistern — because my life is full of exciting things like this — I appreciated looking at a YouTube video about it first. Although I’d still have preferred it if that video was embedded within a written article and was accompanied by written instructions so that people who are more skilled at replacing toilet cisterns than me (i.e. everybody else) can skim and skip more easily.

Just to be clear, I’m not demanding a written article for everything. I don’t want a written article for entertainment purposes: I want to watch a movie and I want to listen to a song.

Podcasts can be unnecessarily time-consuming too, particularly those with more fluff than substance. I want a transcript so I can skim and skip. Yes, occasionally there are podcasts that are worth listening to anyway but I’d argue that this is because they are providing some entertainment value too, which I’ve already said I’m okay with.

I wouldn’t, for example, want to listen to a podcast where someone interviews Tim Cook. Well, not unless it’s going to be as amusing as a Fawlty Towers script. I simply want to see the transcript so that I can skip all the hellos, how are yous and small talk and get to the information I want. I don’t want to spend 30 minutes listening to a podcast when I could easily get the information I’m after from a written article in 30 seconds. If I choose to listen to the podcast after reading (or skimming) the transcript then that’s up to me.

I don’t like to waste time. Well, I’d better correct myself here: I’m a master of wasting time but I want to waste it on things of my choice.

The time I have to devote to video instruction or information is far greater than the time I have to devote to the same thing in a written article, particularly if I’m broadly familiar with the subject matter at the outset.

I shall reiterate that I’m talking about raw information and instruction here.

I read prolifically and will always read the entirety of an article that stands alone as a ‘good article’ above and beyond the information it imparts. I’d do the same with an instructional video but I tend to find they rarely stand alone as a ‘good watch’ above and beyond the information they impart. There are always exceptions of course.

So we come back to what I said originally: when I want information or instruction, I want to read it.