Swimming in the deep end

A coworker forwarded me an inspiring article from the Harvard Business Review. I was interested after the first paragraph, and was looking excitedly looking forward to finishing it along with a cookie. But I could not!

I’d get a couple more sentences in before being distracted. I would dutifully stop, blink, then rewind a couple sentences, then repeat. Over and over. The dreaded technology loop!

Hmm, I’d rather read this as an ebook. I wonder how I could convert it. I wonder who else has read this article. Do I have any new emails? Maybe there’s some news on Lybia I should be aware of. What other stuff has this dude written that I should read first? Man, an ebook of this would be nice. Maybe I should just print it?

Come on brain, read! Think! And remember, dangit!

I felt like I was learning to read for the first time. I had to work very hard to actually make it through the article. Then I stopped to think about what I had read, and realized my reading comprehension was for naught.

black and white of diver in old swimsuit

Why couldn’t I take in the information? Because I was reading a computer screen. When I’m upright at the computer, hands on keyboard & mouse, I’m in computer mode, not reading mode. Great for doing stuff. Sure, I can learn stuff too, but nothing more than a tweet-sized tidbit. And the only pieces I can reliably hang on to are pointers to the “real” information online, somewhere. It’s a useful state of being for some activities, not completive thought.

This is exactly the phenomenon described by Nicholas Carr in The Shallows.

I find myself doing this all the time lately.

me: “Check out the supermoon!”
Eva: “What’s a supermoon?”
me: “No idea. Just saw the headline. It’s probably bigger or something.”
Eva: “Huh?”

Eva and I did an experiment for while where, for one day a week, we didn’t use the internet. At all. For a whole day. Try it! I dare you.

Oh yeah, the article. It’s 6 pages long. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen.

Are you stuck in The Shallows at the computer? Are you able to read long articles on a computer screen? How do you recalibrate your brain when you need to think deeply about something? How does your reading comprehension and ability to concentrate change when you read newsprint? A book on an ebook reader? A printed novel? A Web page? How does your writing change when you use a computer vs. when you write with a pen and paper? Do you ever actually write with a pen and paper?

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