Feelin’ Groovy

I had a flat tire the other day while I was out running errands. I put air in it and made my way to my preferred tire vendor, where I had to sit in the waiting room for about an hour before I was on my way again. Fortunately I had my Newsweek with me (don’t leave home without it!) and was able to spend a perfectly delightful hour reading and thinking.

It was wonderful.

I wished, briefly, that I had my laptop with me so I could work. But … no. Wallowing in those pages, really reading them, was heaven.

William Powers, author of Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, says,

In a multitasking world where pure focus is harder and harder to come by, paper’s seclusion from the Web is an emerging strength. There’s nothing like holding a sheaf of beautifully designed pages in your hands. The whole world slows down, and your mind with it.

I read a review of the book in my Newsweek that day, friends. :)

In another interesting article, Dr. Andrew Weil takes up Powers’s theme. Weill says our bodies and brains aren’t really equipped for twenty-first-century life, and goes on, “Not only do we suffer from nature deficit, we are experiencing information surfeit.”

Let’s face it, we’re all moving just a bit too fast. When I’m editing I often break away to research a point for the piece I’m working on. I do it quickly; I’ve got to get back to work. When I’m not editing I’m reading and responding to e-mail, or checking in with publishing blogs (and, God help me, Twitter) so that I can keep current with what’s going on in the industry in which I work. After all, I’m not in an office somewhere hearing the talk around the water cooler. So I skim: Anything here I need to know? Anything I can blog about? Anything I can pass on to my Twitter network?

I’m a reading shark.

But some experts think all this endlessly skimming short texts on the Internet is making us stupid. This article in the Guardian says,

According to The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, a new book by technology sage Nicholas Carr, our hyperactive online habits are damaging the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information. Round-the-clock news feeds leave us hyperlinking from one article to the next—without necessarily engaging fully with any of the content.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Carr says we are “losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind. Mentally, we’re in perpetual locomotion.”

While I was waiting at the tire store, a young woman came into the waiting room and sat down. Then she pulled out an iPhone and began … who knows? Checking her e-mail, Facebook, texting a friend. We’ve all seen a version of that repeated every day. I have an iPhone myself, but I still prefer to carry a book or a magazine around in the car.

Technology isn’t bad. In fact, quite the opposite: it’s improved our lives immeasurably. (I can’t imagine what it was like to edit books before the Internet age, frankly. I assume editors spent half their time in the library; it had to have been a much slower process.)

But we also have to step away from technology on occasion. Sit back. Contemplate.

It’s the only way I know to push back against the breakneck pace at which I live my working life.

That hour and a half at the tire store—it was heaven. Afterward I went to the bookstore to pick up Hamlet’s BlackBerry. I’m reading it slowly.

We need to slow down, all of us.

I will if you will.

Tweet: Feelin’ groovy: I’m a fan of slow reading.

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8 Comments

  1. Michelle Ule says:

    What? You don’t want to live in a world of google-brains–where we can only understand paragraphs if they are no more than three sentences long and what brain cells we DO have wander off halfway through a conversation because there may not be enough flash and sparkle to keep us engaged?

    Sigh.

    I’m done.

    :-)

  2. Beth Bates says:

    Oh my gosh I love this post. Just reading the Powers quote soothes me, as I skim your article while working from the library, trying to avoid the distractions of “time traps” about which I’m writing in this Time Management learning module!

  3. OK, Jamie, I will! I’ve been observing this in myself for some time. My husband has asked why I push myself so much. Always writing. Always reading. Always taking care of that to-do list. He encourages me to sit back, relax, and forget about everything driving me so hard. And you know what? He’s right!

    Actually, I’ve made a few decisions for 2012, which I’ll share with you sometime. In the meantime, like you, I’m feelin’ groovy slowing down and enjoying life! Thanks for this post!

  4. Bill Buppert says:

    Jamie,

    Thank you for raising this issue because the wonders of electronic oceans of information at our fingertips comes fraught with peril to our critical facilities. I purposefully don’t have a smartphone for this very reason. I pride myself on my self-discipline but at times the surfing impulse overwhelms me when I am on the web.

    I paraphrase Mortimer Adler from his great book, How to Read a Book: “Reading does not really take place until your eyes are off the page.” In other words, starry-eyed staring into the distance contemplating the knowledge we have digested allows us to make all those intricate pattern relationships and phases of evidence or logic make sense.

    It is one reason I go nowhere without my Kindle BUT it is a version that is not color nor can I surf the web. While I am not a fan of Newsweek, I love the long-form journalism in The Atlantic or some more obscure periodicals like the Journal of Military History.

    PowerPoint is the corporate disease that is a rough corollary to your complaint. Most government entities and businesses think that if ideas can’t be captured on PowerPoint, they don’t exist…and that is a very dangerous notion. Most sophisticated and subtle chains of evidence or lines of reasoning cannot be encapsulated in that fashion.

    Love the blog!

    • Jamie says:

      Bill, I SO agree with your Adler quote!

      Funny, 20 years ago my then-boss, a smart guy, told me that my emails were too long and involved (for him, and for general corporate correspondence). He told me to try to boil things down to bullet-point lists. I did as he suggested and I was infinitely more successful in dealing with the executives (mostly men) in that company.

      You can read this any number places, though: our attention spans are getting smaller and we get our information in sound-bites. It’s a scary thought.