Reading Attention-Span Demanding Books In A Digital ADD World

James Joyner writes that he reads books less, now, and non-fiction at that, because he is reading all day in front of the computer:

I read non-fiction almost exclusively and have gone from being a book person to an article person. The efficiency of getting 85 percent of the point in eight pages that I would get in 300 pages has made it so that I seldom read books cover-to-cover. Even very fine books, such as David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerilla, are hard to finish because my inner editor quickly says “yeah, yeah — you’ve already said that in a slightly different way in the previous chapter.” To be sure, each new case study reveals additional nuances. But everything beyond the introductory chapter presents a very high work to reward ratio.

His whole post is worth a read. Ha!

Here’s what I’ve noticed: Now, I have to force myself to read outside of my computer time. Since working, writing and blogging on the computer, I find salient information more easily but the over arching big picture can get lost. That is, it is very easy to major in the minors when immersed online.

To step back, I’ll read non-fiction, sure. Before my intense online time, that’s almost exclusively what I read, but I have found my mind craving a different sort of information. When in Chiropractic college, majoring in the minors was also a problem. My intellectual life was broken down into biochemistry, microbiology, anatomy, physiology, embryology, pathology, etc. Likewise, today, my intellectual life is broken down into health care, taxes, economics, energy, and a myriad other policy choices. What I need is big picture.

Big picture ideas often come from two sources now–fantasy literature and magazine reading. What magazines? Certainly not Newsweek which has all the information of any propaganda. I lean toward magazines like Architectural Digest and Scientific American. Seems unrelated, right? But really, there are “big” ideas in both. What is new and different? What expands my world view? That’s what I hunger for in the age of bytes and bits.

So while I do feel my attention span has changed, I will sit for a good book or a good picture or a well-thought out article that expands my thought-scope. My patience for shoddy writing has dwindled. I just don’t have time to sit through a marginally good book. (I will read culturally relevant books on vacation–I should have been paid money to read the Golden Compass trilogy, for example. And those books won awards. Blech.)

Far from destroying my reading ability (except for limited time), the internet age has refined and shaped my leisurely reading desires. The internet has made me expect more.

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