Thursday, July 15, 2010

Go slow

It is all the fault of the internet of course, it usually is. Apparently, "many of us no longer have the concentration to read articles through to their conclusion".
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.

3 comments:

Anton Deque said...

Precisely. I too read slowly but skim when required. I have just read a long (and very good article by Jonathan Raban on the 2010 General Election in the online NYRB. If good I will read on. If I know where this is going, not.

mikeovswinton said...

Marshall McLuhan used to read only the left hand page of books, which apparently meant he got through them quickly. When asked about this one of his scientist friends noted that McLuhan seemed to understand technical scientific literature by reading in this manner perfectly well.

Is the problem really those books that you feel as if you've been reading for a year a couple of days after you started them? You know, like this week's Zizek.

lilskrimp01 said...

I didn't enjoy reading till I bought this speed reading software and now I actually enjoy reading.