1411: Loop

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Ugh, today's kids are forgetting the old-fashioned art of absentmindedly reading the same half-page of a book over and over and then letting your attention wander and picking up another book.
Title text: Ugh, today's kids are forgetting the old-fashioned art of absentmindedly reading the same half-page of a book over and over and then letting your attention wander and picking up another book.


Cueball is seen at his desk in front of four devices. He has clearly run out of things to do, or is looking for an excuse to procrastinate. A flowchart describes the process by which he scans the whole environment for something to do, which everyone can relate to.

The comic uses electronics likely because they are the common time killer these days, and are most likely to contain fresh, tantalizing entertainment. News sites can be viewed as a good source of yet-to-be-seen content. Yet the search yields no interesting content, or the results don't garner enough attention, thus the blank stares and moving on to next device in line. Cueball has four devices, so he can begin with the desktop and move through the loop three times - first to laptop, then tablet and finally to smartphone.

The title text notes that this also happened before there were electronic devices like today, assuming most entertainment came from books. The point made is that, while the Internet and modern electronic devices are often blamed for jeopardizing the minds of adolescents, the attention span of "the kids" is not worse than it ever was, neither in the context of low-tech nor high-tech media. Kids focus on some things for a long time, but they do change this focus often very abruptly. But nevertheless there are still many kids reading books today until the end.

The title text could also be considered to imply another type of loop in which various generations experience the same situations under different circumstances (i.e., history repeating itself). In this case, the new generation experiences the attention lapse loop with electronics, whereas the previous generation experienced this same loop with books. There may also be a commentary present on the shorter attention span of the current generation as opposed to the previous one in that there is an obvious terminus to the electronics loop while the book loop could extend nearly indefinitely.


[Cueball sits at a desk, accompanied by a desktop computer and a laptop open in front of it. He is holding a tablet in his left hand and a smartphone in his right.]
[A cyclical flowchart is shown above Cueball:]
Stare blankly at screen -> Open news site -> Start reading -> Get bored -> Absentmindedly check smaller device -> Stare blankly at screen -> ...


  • His compulsive checking of various sites is also presented in 862: Let Go, where in the title text he mentions that the solution he found was to add a 30 second delay for any sites that he opened before he could use them. This is further expanded in the xkcd blog.

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First explanation. How did I do, veterans? Lacedemonian (talk) 04:45, 22 August 2014 (UTC)

Not bad. I reorganised the content and fixed some stylistic flaws.

Awaiting older veterans to cross-reference with older entries. 05:11, 22 August 2014 (UTC)Sylvertech

I count 4 devices: monitor, laptop, tablet, phone. 05:52, 22 August 2014 (UTC)J. from Mi.

All he needs is to have been wearing a Google Glass-type device, and this can simultaneously be both a smaller display (by absolute scale) to recurse onto after the smartphone and a possibly larger display (by proportion of view) to recurse back out of onto the 'smaller' computer monitor display... 09:14, 22 August 2014 (UTC)

I rather think that the image text is ironic. How many people, when reading a book, absentmindedly read a page (so far so good, possible) let your mind wonder (ok) and then pickup another book to start browsing (I think not). -- 09:26, 22 August 2014 (UTC)

I did that. It used to happen in situations when I was stuck somewhere (like sitting in a camper on a rainy day during holidays, or riding a train on a long way home etc.) and had limited access to entertainment (like a few books that I have taken with me just in case). I would then read a couple of pages, get bored, take another book, get bored after several pages, than take another that I have read three times already, get bored... then stare out of the window for some time, get bored... then pick one of the books again in hope it might keep me occupied for a while... and so on. Interactive media are somewhat better for time-killing but not by much. 17:45, 22 August 2014 (UTC)
There's a scene in Harry Potter (book) where Harry himself does this, albeit while studying for some exams. He's tired and studying, he reads the same line four or five times before realizing that he's done so, so he starts studying another subject. The knowledge from that line gets used sometime later as a non-essential plot point (I think). 11:37, 25 August 2014 (UTC)

They could pick up a magazine - my wife does it all the time. Mattdevney (talk) 09:33, 22 August 2014 (UTC)

It's not a flowchart in the traditional sense, which would have separate boxes for each step (and this doesn't, it's just a step, no container of any kind, with an arrow to the next). RChandra (talk) 12:42, 22 August 2014 (UTC)

Let's not forget about smart-watches!Sirvanilla (talk) 5:09, 22 August 2014 (UTC)

Came here from news site... Strange. Multimotyl (talk) 21:08, 22 August 2014 (UTC)

Already had an account, less strange? 11:37, 25 August 2014 (UTC)
He's saying that he's in the middle of such a loop right now.-- 19:23, 26 August 2014 (UTC)

Now I want to see him then checking a smart-watch with it, then have a smaller laptop in between the mobile devices and the current laptop, then have a larger computer behind the one he already has. Halo422 (talk) 20:07, 15 December 2017 (UTC)

Randall skipped over the entire generation that would channel-surf when no show could hold their interest. Nitpicking (talk) 19:30, 9 December 2021 (UTC)