I love reading. I gave up TV-watching for reading, and I’ve been known to spend an entire day reading a book cover to cover. I love the thrill of getting a new book, and I often read with a highlighter and pen handy to keep notes. I decorate with bookshelves. I also read a lot of material on line, where I can learn about new ideas long before the book on the subject gets published. Did I say I love reading?
So I was pretty interested to read The Shallows, Nicholas Carr’s book that cautions that we may be losing our ability to read deeply.
I bought Carr’s argument that the hyperactivity of working online is seriously distracting and habit-forming, and detrimental to certain kinds of learning (and working for that matter). And I’m considering Carr’s caution that the way we approach reading online – which is generally to skim and to click through to diverse links – may have adverse effects on developing deep reading and thinking skills.
I’m not quite convinced, though, that any broad lack of deep reading skills is the fault of the big bad machine and the business models of companies like Google and Facebook. Having the interest and capacity for deep reading has never been a wide-spread trait in my opinion. While hyperlinks and high speed internet service provide more temptations, I’m pretty sure we always had to make a choice between skimming material and really reading it, between focusing our attention on one thing at a time and jumping around, and between reading the book or settling for the summary version.
Deep reading can be encouraged, though, by great writing and interesting ideas. It can also be encouraged by challenging assignments in educational situations. But that’s a post for another day.
The Shallows did give me some interesting ideas to ruminate:
> There are implications related to connectivism that I never consciously considered. Connectivism draws on the fact that we can expand our capacity for knowledge by connecting to resources and people outside of ourselves – that there are many things we no longer have to know; we just have to know how to find them. (Caution: huge oversimplification of connectivism!) But when knowledge is not inside our heads, we lose the possibility of making serendipitous connections among ideas. I’ll want to review some of the writings on connectivism to see how the thought leaders in this arena think about this challenge.
> An important part of the intellectual activity of reading is to solidify our learning through some kind of reflection, which is sometimes challenging when we rush on so quickly to additional material. (So much to read, so little time.) I need to redouble my effort to process my learning in some fashion in order to have the ideas I’ve developed “stick.” (Blogging helps. :-))
> I’ve not been conscious of my online reading habits, and I should be more careful to make deliberate choices about my reading approach. (For example, to choose to finish a story before clicking into hyperlinks, to choose to turn off interruptions like incoming e-mail or social media pings.) The nature of the beast does make deep reading and deep thinking more difficult, so I need to make more thoughtful choices about my online practices.
I, for one, celebrate deep reading. And I endorse this sentiment from Stephen King: “When you stack up the years we are allowed against all there is to read, time is very short indeed.”