I finished a chapter from Made to Stick when I realized I could not recall anything from the last five pages.
I completely zoned out.
Was it ADD? Was it my aging brain creeping in? Was it my dinging iPhone going off (43 dings to be exact) from friends on a group text thread texting about the proper way to buckle a child into a car seat? Maybe I was scrolling through Twitter to find out if Kim Kardashian was having a boy or a girl? Maybe I lost interest because there were no links to click, no images to pin, no cat videos to share, or stories to “Like.”
My online reading habits are carrying over to my book reading crushing my ability to focus on long written text inside a good ole fashion paperback book.
In the New Yorker article, Being a Better Online Reader, Maria Konnikova explains how the physiology of the reading process is shifting because of the way we view online content. We tend to skim, skip, scroll, and glance over headlines. Being constantly inundated with information causes us to filter through content rapidly at the expense of comprehension. We constantly have to filter out digital distractions and annoying advertisements.
Ziming Liu, a San Jose State University Professor, believes the art of skimming through content is becoming a permanent reading habit:
The more we read online, the more likely we were to move quickly, without stopping to ponder any one thought. The online world, too, tends to exhaust our resources more quickly than the page. We become tired from the constant need to filter out hyperlinks and possible distractions. And our eyes themselves may grow fatigued from the constantly shifting screens, layouts, colors, and contrasts, an effect that holds for e-readers as well as computers.
Bruce Fiedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, describes how the Internet altered his mental habits in the article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Friedman said:
I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print. I can’t read War and Peace anymore. I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.
English philosopher Francis Bacon once said:
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
Perhaps we are turning into permanent tasters with the inability to chew up and fully digest a great book.
The art of deep reading and getting lost in a good book is becoming a challenge for many. It sounds so rudimentary, but we need to teach ourselves how to get better at reading to survive in an era of diminishing attention spans.
10 tips on how to become a better reader and retain information like a brainiac:
- Paper Trumps Digital – I’m a huge technology guy at heart but prefer books I can feel, hold, smell and flip through when looking to truly engage with the content. It’s also nice to give those eyes a break from the constant staring at digital screens throughout the day.
- Highlighting, Annotating, Dog-earing, and Margin Note Taking on book pages prove to be extremely useful when trying to remember important concepts. There are tools available online and for E-readers that serve the same function, but they just don’t allow the freedom and creativity as freehand doodling with a pencil and highlighter.
- Capture Your Notes – I use Evernote on my phone to snap pictures of book pages that I tag and file away for future reference. Evernote uses OCR (optical character recognition) to retrieve hand-written text and book print that’s scanned into an image or PDF making every scanned item searchable.
- Summarize Concepts in Your Own Words – Summarizing content in your own words allows you to analyze and make sense of it all.
- Spend Time Reviewing Your Notes – Spend an hour or two every month to go back over your notes or passages you highlighted making sure you are able to understand the material.
- Become a Loner Dottie, a Rebel – Read in isolation to prevent distractions. Stephen King suggests closing the door and pulling the curtains closed shielding you from the outside world as your eyes won’t wander and the screaming kids can’t bother you. Become a hermit.
- Lose the Phone – Shut it down. It kills your focus.
- Distraction-free Online Reading – Implement pop-up blockers on your computer. Most Internet browsers have “reading mode” functionality that strips away surrounding frames and advertisements giving you the article only. Evernote allows you to clip and capture just the article itself without all of the surrounding clutter on a web page.
- Know When to Skim and When to Analyze – Learn how to filter content and know when skimming material is appropriate. There’s deep reading and then there’s skimming. There’s a time and place for both and we just need to be able to determine when that is.
- Read How to Read – How to Read is the only book on the market that does an excellent job covering the topic on making you a better reader.
- Additional Resources:
“How to Read a Book”
“How to Read More and Remember It All”
“5 Ways to be a Better Reader and Improve Your Writing in the Process“
Did you have the attention span to make it to the end of this article? Did you quickly scan for catchy headlines?
Quality reading is the cornerstone of an efficient self-directed learning curriculum as we look to self-educate ourselves. Digital reading is inferior to paper presentation for production and consumption of information. It’s important to not let our digital chaotic lives get the best of us. Focus and good selective reading is key to sharpening our minds and acquiring knowledge.