Digital Tunnel Vision – A Cognitive Optical Illusion

Studies indicate that those who get their information from a digital screen tend to perceive reality in finite concrete details, seeing the trees but not the forest, while those who get their information from non-digital sources, mainly the printed page, tend to see the abstract context, the big picture, the forest and then the trees.

The researchers asked two groups to read the same story, one on a printed page and the other on a digital screen of the same size.  It proved out that those on the digital devices could recall the smallest details, while those on the non-digital devices considered the story in a broader philosophical or sociological context.


The study observes:

“The ever-increasing demands that individuals encounter in their use of digital technologies may cause them to ‘retreat’ to the less cognitively demanding lower end of the concrete-abstract continuum.”

The fear is that limiting intake of information to digital devices might create a simplistic tunnel vision, a cognitive optical illusion, reducing the human capacity for contemplation, deep thought or see both sides of an idea or argument.

The digital tunnel group tends to see the the details, the trees but not the forest, focusing on the how while the non-digital group sees the big picture, the forest but not the trees, focusing on why. 


It is suggested that this has implications for website design, requiring a balance so that both the forest and the trees are presented.  Some sites might want to focus directly on the concrete object or service, and attempt place it in a broader context (trees to forest) while others might start with a broad perspective and then focus on details (forest to trees).

Sites by content and purpose generally have a bias towards a detail (trees/forest) and others on a broader scope (forest/trees).  Consider these subjects addressed in the galleries of the Top 10 Los Angeles Website Design Agencies.


The following list focuses on how to obtain an article or service, and might balance by seeking to compensate with details that emphasize why use the service or product:

Neonatal care.

Cancer treatment

Learning centers.


Bankruptcy assistance.

Drug rehab.

Criminal defense.



Guest ranch.

Assisted living,




This group tends to focus on why and could compensate with how details.

Youth beverages.

Healthy eating.



Sports nutrition.


Emotional health.

Social development.

Good deeds.

Creative motivation.

Career college.

Charm center.




It’s a fractal-like concept.







Johari Window





This Johari Window is a graph of how the website designer and the client understand each othere.

  1.  OPEN – Both are on the same page.

  2. BLIND – Things the designer knows but the client is unaware.

  3. HIDDEN – Things the client knows but not the designer.

  4. UNKNOWN – Elements that neither are aware nor able to articulate.

The ideal is the largest possible OPEN space where they understand each other with a minimum UNKNOWN.

The lines of the graph can be moved by the website designer providing information and the client hearing this information:






Website prose



Most websites have remarkable visual presentations, but many have prose that is dry as a desert, a bone, acre of Corn Flakes, or from Australia, dry as a dead dingo’s donger.

If the prose on your site is amateur, you look amateur.

A few errors from our featured websites:

  • Forget all the tricks and hacks you learned that gets you . . .

  • . . . we re-write your content to be more dense in the right keywords and . . .

  • A brand can be made or killed by their ranking . . .

  • . . . develop targeted SEO content targeting . . .

  • Then we do the development.

All serious writers have copy editors, because you can’t be objective about what you are trying to say.

In this age of the quick read and the scan, your text needs to be edited so it is short crisp and clear prose.

Find a copy editor, who in the words of Susan Sontag, will “love words, agonize over sentences.  And pay attention to the world.”

Designers and programmers  are not writers.