The Internet is funny–it wants* to provide me access to useful and interesting information from all over the world, then while I read it tries its best to distract me with flashing visuals vying for my attention.
I’ve been around long enough to remember that in the early days of the web, the visual distractions took the form of animated GIFs trying their hardest to make me look away from the content I was reading. Fortunately, Internet Explorer had an answer for this early on: the ESC key froze all GIFs in their tracks. Nice. Sanity prevailed. Firefox upped the ante by allowing me to set globally that GIFs were only allowed to cycle once**.
Then came Flash, which was not only impervious to ESC, but it could also make noise. Firefox was also the answer here, as it allowed installation of the wonderful Flashblock plug-in, replacing all Flash content with a nice, boring play button. Ahhhhhh, peace.
But the Internet adapts. As nice as HTML 5 is, it provides a new vector for attacking my concentration. Movement, animation, and sound are now built into the basic functionality of the Internet, making it hard for a plug-in to discriminate between useful website functionality and unwelcome distractions.
The lesson for instructional designers? Help your learners focus on the content. Minimize distractions.
As for me, I’ve started to check out Firefox Reader.
*The Internet likes to be anthropomorphized.
**I don’t use this setting any more, as nowadays many animated GIFs are really interesting.