Happy New Year everybody and welcome to 2017. It’s a week in and already there’s some great stuff I’ve read and wanted to share. I’ve mentioned “Thinking fast and slow” in another post, which is the title of an excellent book. However this time I’m borrowing the title to highlight a slightly different theme, along the lines of how we process information. Not neurologically as in the Khaneman book, but in the physical way we read, which to be fair has an element of the neurological to it.
I am reading a book by Nicholas Carr, “The Shallows”, which is all about how as the media we use to hold the data in the world has changed, so has the way we process information. Originally it was all done by the word of mouth, then came the scribes who wrote words down in the newly created alphabets of the world. The next revolution was Gutenberg’s printing press, suddenly the world has cheaper and more available books than ever before. Also around this time we as a species moved from reading out loud (even in private) to reading quietly both in private and public. This has been termed “deep reading” and is shown to increase the amount of information we can glean from a text and how much we retain.
With the invention and the study of books our way of thinking followed the process and trained our brains. Reinforcing a slow and methodical reading of texts and in doing so the thinking and thought associated with that process. That we can come up with our own interpretations and understandings of what’s presented to us. This process requires that we learn to read, which is an in-depth cognitive skill to acquire. Our brains can be seen, over time, to markedly change the way they function as reading is acquired. We quite naturally learn to talk, but it’s additional cognitive effort to read and write.
The next real revolution to come into force has been the internet (the crux of the book). This has totally altered the way we interact with media and content. The internet (net) seldom presents pages of just text, almost all net interactions a multimedia affairs. Looking to gain as much attention as possible, but for a pretty fleeting amount of time. A book is often read for an hour or so at a time, as webpage is on average visited for about just 20 seconds. The web user then hurtles to the next new input, ad infinitum. This actually appears to suit our original modes of existing in the world, looking for multiple inputs to tell us what was happening in our environment. To read a book pushes against thousands of years of conditioning/evolution, where we “lose” ourselves into a book and exclude all other inputs.
The point of this post and to be fair Nicholas Carr’s book is not to condemn the internet and digital media, but to suggest all of us find a balance between the fast of the internet and slow of a printed media, mainly the book. That there is time to whizz through a huge variety of inputs and learn a little about a lot, but also there is time to immerse ourselves in books and learn about topics in greater depth. Both have their place, but as will the theme of a lot of my posts awareness and balance are key to our approach to learning. There is plenty of evidence to suggest reading books genuinely imparts more knowledge than surfing the net. However, the net is a wonderful tool, generally at our fingertips, to give us instant knowledge as we need it. Let alone the recreational, social elements of the net.
Therefore I’m suggesting we all find time to think both fast and slow, to enjoy what each medium has to offer and be mindful of their limitations. That way we all get the best of both worlds, which seems a great outcome to me.