According to The Shallows, a new book by technology sage Nicholas Carr, our hyperactive online habits are damaging the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information. Round-the-clock news feeds leave us hyperlinking from one article to the next – without necessarily engaging fully with any of the content; our reading is frequently interrupted by the ping of the latest email; and we are now absorbing short bursts of words on Twitter and Facebook more regularly than longer texts.So now there is a movement for slow reading to recover the lost arts of contemplation. Not that I ever lost them. I am a slow reader. Naturally and infuriatingly slow. Friends pile through a book, without speed reading techniques, in twice the time I do. They can start discussing the conclusion, whilst I am still on page 150, gazing into space or wondering whether I left the gas on. My slow reading is nothing to do with my superior powers of concentration, it is because I am a slow reader and was one long before the internet ever existed. Given my choice of career, it has not been a blessing.
I must admit that when I am on the internet I commit all the sins mentioned above. I skim and rarely finish articles. That is mainly because it rapidly becomes clear after the first few paragraphs that much of what is on there is deeply tedious, steaming ordure and I have a life. Being a slow reader makes you more intolerant of the time wasted reading rubbish. There are some gems on-line of course and those I read painfully slowly.
So now, on a perfect summer's morning, I shall sink into a chair in the shade on the patio and finish the last couple of chapters of Sheila Rowbotham's excellent biography of Edward Carpenter, a book that I have been reading for a very long time.