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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Skim or Whole?


Surprise! This is about reading, not milk preferences but the analogy generally works. Skimming for main thoughts and just getting the gist of material is similar to the no fat milk product - just the basic nutrients with none of the richness. Without consciously trying to diet, I have found myself a consummate skimmer.

I’m not proud of this, but I noticed this trait a few years ago. It doesn't matter if it's a book, a magazine, or an article on the Internet. Engaging in the material completely, wholly takes special effort. I brought up this weakness in conversation with a fellow baby boomer and he agreed. He just assumed his lack of concentration was due to his age and aging. Younger than him, I have flatly dismissed this excuse. I think it is something else. Perhaps, it is the quantity of items available to digest, to read, to engage, and the desire to absorb as much as possible and stay current. That’s what I’ve been blaming.

While skimming the Chicago Tribune one day, I caught an article by Leonard Pitts. He had the same lament. He wasn't reading deeply. Turns out there have been studies of this phenomenon in academic circles and the Internet is to blame, not aging brains or the multitude of words in print. The design of the Internet with its hyperlinks, search engines, pop-ups, and advertising is having an affect on how we read. Pitts references author Nicholas Carr, and his article for the Atlantic monthly, Is Google Making Us Stupid? Ironically, this is a complex article, to be read wholly, that discusses how the Internet not only provides information but shapes the process of thought. He adds interesting examples of how older technologies like the clock and the typewriter have also influenced cognitive function. I can't recount everything Nicholas Carr wrote but generally, he's afraid that if we lose deep reading, we may lose deep thinking.

Here's what I'm skimming at the moment.

National Book Foundation

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

The Witches of Eastwick

Trespass

The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google

1 comment:

Linda K said...

I find myself skimming too but mainly because there are so many things out there that I want to read. Unless a 500+ page novel is utterly amazing I often find myself skimming certain passages, moving ahead to find out if I think the book is worth finishing, etc. I also speed read or skim many books for my Reader's Advisory job so that when I recommend books I can tell other readers whether or not the book is excessively violent, has graphic sex scenes, is full of misery, uses bad language, or whether a beloved pet dies.(Too sad)If someone asks for a clean or cozy read I don't want to give them something that might offend. I know I've really enjoyed a book when I don't have the urge to skim!

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