I’ve Stopped Reading
post # 240 — November 15, 2006 — a Careers, General post
A while ago, I was asked which books I was currently reading, and I realized it had been a long time since I really sat down to read a book that I wasnâ€™t absolutely required to read for work. Even then, I found I skimmed a lot, looking for the punchlines, rather than settling in to absorb the logical or narrative flow that the author wanted to present.
Truth be told, I donâ€™t really have the patience for magazines either anymore, and I rarely read the newspaper nowadays — certainly not as regularly and thoroughly as I did. Even the glorious ritual of settling in to absorb the Sunday paper has gone. If it werenâ€™t for airplane rides, I probably wouldnâ€™t keep up with any reading at all.
Itâ€™s not just that I am busy with my own career as well as helping to launch my wifeâ€™s new business.
Whatâ€™s happened is that I have (slowly or rapidly, Iâ€™m not sure) been losing the ability to read. Ever since I started really participating in the Interent — particularly the blogosphere – my mental metabolic rate has been re-set. I find that I can no longer slow my mental processes down long enough to give attention to a well-reasoned, expansive think-piece. A 250-page book is now a mountain, and a 400-page biography an impossibility. Yet I used to consume these with relish.
And, if what I hear from other people is true, many of you are suffering from the same problem. â€œGive me the punchlineâ€ Iâ€™m told. â€œGet to the point.â€ Clients ask me â€œWhatâ€™s the one article I can read on this: donâ€™t give me a book!â€ The blogosphere is filled with top ten lists. We want the action points, not logic or narrative flow. Venture capitalists tell us that if we havenâ€™t grabbed them in the first few sentences or pages of the proposal, theyâ€™re not going to read on.
Thereâ€™s something very important being lost here. At the personal level, I grieve not only for the loss of my (deeply satisfying) leisure reading, which has almost disappeared. It’s happening in my business reading which is increasingly rushed or not done at all.
By reading less (and reading less well) some very adverse things happen:
a) I learn less.
b) Iâ€™m missing nuance and logic in what I am reading.
c) That forces me to rushed conclusions (accept /reject) about what Iâ€™m skimming.
d) My critical faculties are declining from lack of use. Iâ€™m not reflecting enough to ask questions like â€œWhat would it mean if this were true?â€ â€œUnder what circumstances would this apply?â€ â€œIn what other contexts might this be applicable?â€
e) The failure to ask those questions is making me less creative in my thinking.
f) Obviously, by reading less (and less in depth) I am becoming less informed — about the world, my clientsâ€™ world, my own specialty
Here are some questions for you:
(i) Whatâ€™s your experience? Do YOU find yourself reading less (and less well) nowadays?
(ii) What other negative consequences do you think it has?
(iii) What approaches have you tried to solve the problem?
Carl A. Singer said:
I think you’ve really hit the nail on the thumb
Your experience certainly reflects my own — at least when it comes to “work” books — I can still wrap myself around a well written biography (I recently read the 1956 autobiography of General Matthew Ridgway) or (less and less) fiction (Wodehouse is always worth a re-read) — but even there — once I pick it up, I have to read it cover-to-cover, if it can’t hold my interest and I put it down, then it will forever gather dust in my library.
Is there a lesson to be learned for authors and would-be authors — less is more. Get to the point! Or build a layered book so that one can skip the introductions and background material, the “build up” and other “width” (that may be vital to some readers) and get right into the meat. Then again, how would your publisher respond to a 50 page book?
No doubt some psychologist will note that our reading attention span has been shrunk by the internet, blogs, etc.
posted on November 15, 2006