Read. Patiently, slowly, uselessly.
I recently read a great essay by Michael Harris where he dwells into his present-day struggles to read patiently, the old way. With focus.
Paragraphs swirled; sentences snapped like twigs; and sentiments bled out. The usual, these days. I drag my vision across the page and process little. Half an hour later, I throw down the book and watch some Netflix.
I completely empathise with this. I had realised early last year how difficult it had become for me to read, surrounded by the all-time connected gadgets. A ping here. A notification there. And out I was from my reading flow. Into the swirl of unnecessary, untimely, inconsequential “information” blurbs. What followed was a tap-swipe-scan-stare routine through the varied app icons scattered across the screen. Away from the book, the narrative.
That was also the time when I realised something had to change. First of all, the underserving notifications had to be purged.
Second, I had to start reading in a place where I am not surrounded by any connected device. So I take my kindle, walk to my balcony or to my terrace or to the garden and settle there. Without my phone. Or my iPad. Anyone needs my attention, they have to come fetch me. And I realised I was back to being more earnest while reading. Reading more regularly, speedily. Reading more. Period.
And it indeed is important that I read more for me. I realised the slackness in reading also affected my ability to pen words. I stopped writing. I knew the reason, but Michael puts it perfectly.
In Silicon Valley, they have a saying that explains why an algorithm starts producing unwanted results: Garbage in, garbage out. The idea is that an algorithm can only work with the information you feed it. Aren’t writers — all creators — algorithmic in that way? Our job is to process what we consume. Beauty in, beauty out. Garbage in, garbage out.
So maybe that change into a cynical writer can be forestalled — if I can first correct my reading diet, remember how to read the way I once did. Not scan, not share, not excerpt — but read. Patiently, slowly, uselessly.
I just couldn’t agree more. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are stuck in this information world. There is no steering clear of the frivolous interruptions we are assailed with from all sides. All I want is to pluck the opportunities I grant others to interrupt me.