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On Reading Slowly

This recent post by vika has made me uncomfortably conscious of the slowness with which the pile of books I’d planned on reading this summer is diminishing — or, more accurately, the alarming speed with which it’s growing, as the research reading list is getting added to much more rapidly than the actual reading is getting done. To a certain extent, I think, this is to be expected, accounted for under the old “the more I learn, the more I understand how little I know” adage; as one source always leads to many others, research begets research in exponential fashion. Moreover, research always seems to expand to fill the time-vessel in which it’s contained.

But there are other factors in my growing pile of to-be-read material that I find less-than-happy, not least of which is the snail’s pace at which I’m turning the pages lately. The positive explanation for this is that I read more carefully than I used to, and take copious notes, which is a time-consuming process. On my less optimistic days, though, I wind up blaming what seems to me my painfully short attention span: I sit down to read whatever I happen to be working through, get a couple of pages in, and feel the uncontrollable desire to check my e-mail, or my net stats, or these here blog comments. I lack focus, brain divided among too many pieces of reading and writing to keep any in full view for very long.

Is this a symptom of the age, or is this what my eighth-grade English teacher used to refer to as “a personal problem” (as in, “I couldn’t finish my homework, Mrs. Collins, because I had to study for my math test.” “Sounds like a personal problem to me”)? For better or for worse, we all multi-task, and often not all that efficiently — but is my distraction just a part of life in the networked world, or does it reveal a lack of discipline (and one I’d be well advised to keep to myself, at that)?


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