A good poem is highly compressed in its language. You can’t skim through it and hope to get anything out of it. It’s the antithesis of most online reading, which provides more content, more links, more options… and less likelihood that you’ll read one thing slowly and thoughtfully.
Poets.org has a large collection of animated textflow poems, classic poems that are “animated” in the sense that the text appears a few words at a time, so that one line of the poem is broken into a stanza of just a word or two per line, and which fades away when complete.
Here’s a still of the first part of Emily Dickinson’s “A lane of Yellow led the eye” (#1650):
Big deal, right?
But here’s the thing: by doling out a poem a word at a time, textflow animation forces you to slow down (you control the pace of the playback). Go ahead and try at the link above. The words appear large even on an iPhone screen (and yes, there is an app), and they’re huge if you view them on a computer monitor and set the display to full-screen.
This tiny-bites approach significantly changes the experience of reading the poem. It makes you linger on each word. And all the white space around the type has a simplifying and calming effect — sort of like the effect of listening to a really good reader, except now it’s the quiet voice inside your head.
They’re the same words as before — but even this simple animation changes their presentation enough to make them seem new.
In other words, it isn’t just about the content of the experience. It’s also about the mind’s receptiveness to that content. One of the little secrets of experiencing a sense of discovery and wonder is that you can improve your mind’s receptiveness by making relatively small changes to the way you receive or interact with the content. It isn’t that textflow is better than a book, it’s that it’s different (especially if you’re a fast reader). Maybe you’ll like the difference and maybe you won’t, but it provides an opportunity for discovery.