Wednesday, October 22, 2008

21st Century Reading

Around 1995/96 I taught myself speed-reading, using a simple technique outlined in a simple book, describing methodoloy developed by Evelyn Wood. What a sense of empowerment... all of a sudden I could read a book in a short evening, instead of over several days, or weeks. I went through about a book a day for years; well not every single day because of work duties or other obligations... let's say about four or five books a week, on average.

I read a lot of books for a while, there..! [Sigh........ the good ol' days..]

It was so enlivening: I could read faster, and retain more of what I read. Those were heady times... too much so, as it turned out, because I got cocky and set about to speed-read the dictionary, of all things. I thought about how "smart" I could become if I could remember every single definition in a good-sized dictionary. [Haha!! I always break out laughing whenever I revisit this memory, at the sheer lunacy of the idea. Like a lot of silly decisions we make in our lives, we often look back in wonderment at who this person was who temporarily commandeered our body and our mind and took us for a joyride.]

Anyway, my little experiment with the dictionary so totally burned me out that I lost my speed-reading "powers", and have struggled in vain to recapture them ever since.

Well: I accidentally found a battered copy of the glorious old book I had used over ten years ago to first teach me better reading skills, and I'm setting aside some proper time this weekend to sit down and figure out once and for all why I can't seem to reclaim the same mental skills I had so effortlessly taught myself that exciting weekend 13 years ago (yikes! 13 years... time flies).

Given the very smart commentors we're lucky to have here at Covenant Zone, I was wondering if anyone has some practical tips of their own, on how to improve speed of reading and ability to recall the information read. (I'm more concerned about the latter these days than the former, to be honest... I perceive my memory failing me at an alarming rate.)

IfIstarttowritelikethisnextweek,thenyouwillknowmysppedreadingskillhasreturned! ;)

I was also wondering if my regular reading online is having some negative effect on my reading and my recall. Have any of you noticed any change in reading abilities or habits as a result of shifting so much time towards online reading, and away from book-reading?

1 comment:

truepeers said...

Well, remembering is not necessarily a good thing: it can trap you in unproductive resentments and desire for revenge. I think it is generally true that the internet culture works to make everything we write and think more and more disposable, forgettable, with maybe a few necessary exceptions. And yet we keep at it. We don't, as it were, say why bother, it's all impermanent, soon to be lost in the seas of the web. No, surfing and blogging still holds our interest, sometimes for considerable lengths of time.

As such it is a new and improved way we have developed for deferring our potentially violent desires. Those who would try to control the internet, to control "hate speech" etc. are unable to see the pragmatic and paradoxical values in this medium that makes things so forgettable, as everything said, no matter how hateful, is of less and less importance in a world where everything is said and posted to the net thousands of times a day. If we were to return to a universe with only a few channels of information, it would not be a return to a more orderly world; it would be unsuccessful at mediating and deferring a lot of resentment.

Having said that, it remains for us to fish out of this sea in ways that allow us to renew our sense of the higher values that need to be remembered beyond all the info and entertainment that our eyeballs track as our attention is divided up and claimed by so many players.

I would not worry about forgetting much of what you read if your ethical sense, or wisdom, is growing despite it... How or why could/should one remember all the info available to us? There is always Google. And I think more and more the work of renewing our culture and its ethical vision has to come not from the celebrated public figures and writers, but from the millions of amateurs and lesser academics that will never win the big awards and spotlight, that will be individually forgettable but collectively necessary as the long tail.

I still think we need to rediscover the patience to go through great books, not because they are the last word in developing an ethical sensibility for our ADD time, but because we always need to know how we got to where we are, and to see the limits in the previous forms of our high and popular culture so that we do not look at what we are today in either rosy or bleak glasses. Appreciating why and how we have developed the need for billions of centres of attention that we cannot keep under "control" in our memory, or in any cybernetic form of government, may be a step towards greater ethical wisdom.