Playboy Responds to Hyperabundance

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that starting in March 2016, Playboy will bid adieu to nude, or at least to fully-nude. The magazine isn’t abandoning its characteristic presentation of women in provocative poses, but it is responding to the hyperabundance of pornography by redirecting their focus to the quality content they’ve always had.

The internet has allowed for the explosive growth of pornographic content, and there are plenty of sites that are organizing and offering pornography with little to no obstacle. Playboy could have responded to this disruptive change as their competitors have—by trying to trump in print what the internet offers via video. However, this strategy failed for one of Playboy’s primary competitors, Penthouse. Instead, Playboy is turning its focus to other the content for which it has also established authority—its reporting, articles, interviews, and other editorial text. Take a moment to peruse the comments of The New York Times article, and you’ll see comments from readers claiming that they read Playboy for their articles. Personally, I own a copy of The Playboy Book of Science Fiction, an anthology of science fiction shorts that have been featured in the magazine by authors such as Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, Stephen King, et al. It’s a very well-curated collection by Alice Turner, Playboy’s science fiction editor.

Playboy has to keep their magazine alive when this segment is generally struggling. While the magazine is profitable globally, it is losing $3 million a year in the United States. Let’s consider the possibility that removing fully nude photographs could also be a new marketing strategy by appealing to a whole new audience—women. Playboy currently makes most of its money from merchandise. If you do a quick search for merchandise with the famous Playboy bunny logo, how much of it appears to be marketed towards women? Belly button rings and jewelry, dazzling watches and cell phone cases, pajama sets, pink lawn chairs… I could go on. Clearly, they have the attention of women who subsequently want attention for displaying a logo traditionally associated with being “boys-only.” While you might be able to easily recall seeing a girl lying on her Playboy bunny beach towel with a matching bikini set, you’ll not likely recall seeing said girl with the latest issue in her hands. It’s still taboo for a lady to read a nudie mag even if the articles are genuinely interesting. As Playboy re-brands as a non-pornographic publication, will women become more comfortable picking up a copy or possibly even proudly displaying their copy in-hand?

By Heather Williams


Engineering a New Way to Read

By Heather Williams

Inspired by his own challenges with dyslexia, Dr. Matthew Schneps is possibly reengineering the way we read. The speed at which we read is limited by how quickly we can absorb information. Unfortunately, it seems the priorities when designing letters and words were focused on reducing the amount of time it takes a scribe to write and the cost of the materials on which they were written. Schneps describes how letters were designed to be drawn quickly and compressed to fit as many on a page as possible to reduce the amount of parchment required. However, when letters are clustered very close to each other, a phenomenon called “crowding” occurs. Crowding describes the brain’s inability to distinguish the letters in the cluster, and research supports that crowding limits the speed of reading. Schneps uses the following cluster of letters as an example: Dwzrh k wbp. Notice the letter “k” is much easier to distinguish than the following crowded cluster: Dwzrhkwbp.

Now that we don’t have to wait for scribes to painstakingly write text, and digital formats remove the cost of paper, scientists are rethinking how we can read to process more information efficiently and effectively. Dr. Matthew Schneps, a director at the Laboratory for Visual Learning, is collaborating with scientists to re-invent reading to be more efficient with limitations that are inherent only within the brain and not by our eyes’ inability to relay information quickly enough to our brains for processing.

Schneps began this pursuit of research after struggling with dyslexia. He discovered that it was easier to read on the small screen of his smartphone and cites evidence to support this impact of shortened line reading. Even before smartphones were invented, researchers had started to notice that shortening the span of text facilitated reading by those with similar struggles. He theorizes that shortened line reading helps to guide the reader’s attention forward in the text. Other researchers have demonstrated that guiding the reader’s attention allows the person to read more quickly. For example, Beeline Reader is an application that creates a color gradient in each line of text to guide the reader forward. Rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) is another method of flashing words one at a time in a single place on the computer screen which eliminates the requirement to visually move along a line of text.

Schneps and his colleagues are attempting to increase reading efficiency by activating parallel channels of processing through both vision and hearing. People can process language as speech much more quickly than they can read; however, when the speed of speech reaches a threshold, the brain is seemingly overwhelmed and comprehension plummets. The Laboratory for Visual Learning is using a “rapid accelerating program” (RAP) or RSVP to quickly show people visual presentations of text; meanwhile, they’re utilizing the person’s auditory network by rendering the same text as audio. This way, the speed of processing is limited by neither the visual nor auditory pathway, and theoretically a person will be able to read more quickly than they would if they were relying solely on either their visual pathway or auditory network.