Lawn-mowers are internet oxen

From a report on how people read online:

the rise in popularity of comparison tables and zigzag layouts (where text and images alternate in each row on the page) has coincided with the development of a new gaze pattern.

On pages with distinct cells of content, people often process those cells in a lawn-mower pattern: they begin in the top left cell, move to right until the end of the row, then drop down to the next row, move to the left until the of the row, drop down the next row, and so on. (The name of this pattern is inspired by the way a lawn mower sweeps methodically back and forth across a field of grass. The mower moves from one side of the lawn to the other, then flips around and mows the next row of grass in the opposite direction.)

I love this because it so perfectly recapitulates a metaphor from ancient Greece.

Some early Greek manuscripts were written in a similar way. One line goes left-to-right. The next reverses everything (down to the shapes of the letters themselves) to be read right-to left. Then for line 3 you go left-right again. The reader’s eye can smoothly follow the text, without needing to jump across the page (or the tablet) to find the start of the next line.boustrophedon

There were not many lawn-mowers in early Greece. But there were plenty of oxen. And you plow a field the same way you mow a lawn: all the way across the field, then turn and come back.

So this (soon-abandoned) form of writing was called ‘boustrophedon’, ‘like an ox turning’. I’m tickled pink to find it reborn online

Written on June 24, 2020