How To Read

According to my blog statistics, a large fraction of my audience doesn’t know how to read. This sounds ominous, but don’t worry – I can teach you in just a few minutes. I’ll start by explaining how not to read, in four easy steps:

1) Wake up, pour a coffee, sit down in front of your computer

2) Think really, really hard and try to remember as many of your favourite blogs as possible

3) Type in their blog URLs in your address bar, and check to see if they have any new updates

4) Half an hour later, you’ve successfully read a few new blog posts!

This approach seems absolutely insane to me, but apparently it’s how a lot of people access this site.

The obvious problem with this strategy is that you’re spending far more time typing, clicking and searching than actually reading. Also, you’re inevitably going to miss posts and forget about writers you had wanted to keep on your radar. Less obviously, you’re training your mind to expect the short, immediate bursts of information that come from random browsing, rather than the state of deep focus that you enter during prolonged periods of concentration.

Have you noticed that it’s becoming difficult to actually sit down and read a book? Blame the internet, and the attention-span sapping relationship you have with it. Not only are you wasting hours and hours clicking aimlessly, you’re re-wiring your brain to be unable to process ‘slow’ information.

 

I’ve written previously about my low-information diet. If distractions are claiming irretrievable chunks of your days, I suggest you set up a similar information schedule that’s tailored to your life and needs. Here are some guidelines to get you started:

1) Figure out how often you should be checking your email and social networking sites, and resist the urge to exceed that limit.

Email and Facebook are tools, not things you use for fun. Chances are, you don’t really need to check your email more than a few times a day, and Facebook more than a few times per week. Any amount of checking you do over and above that is for fun. I say this while fully admitting that I’m guilty of indulging in over-checking as well, but that is fucking pathetic. Let’s find better things to do with our limited days on this planet than refreshing empty inboxes.

2) Check news and link aggregators no more than once a day.

Reddit is more addictive than crack. You could literally spend your every waking minute browsing it, and never run out of news, pictures and articles that you find at least mildly interesting. As I type this, I’m tempted to Ctrl+T over to the site right now. But I won’t. I do a scan of several newspapers, Reddit, and my RSS feed once a day, and I forbid myself from using them outside that window. I’m not always successful, since I work in front of a computer all day, but it’s a worthy goal to shoot for.

3) Create an RSS Feed

As I said, many of my readers come to this site by typing in the URL. This is not a good use of your time. Instead, you should create an RSS feed and subscribe to every blog you’re interested in following. I follow close to a hundred different feeds and I never miss a post or update unless I consciously choose to skip it. Total time spent, maybe two hours per week.

I use Google Reader. Click on that link, set up a Google account if you don’t already have one, and start adding your favourite sites to your subscription list. (Of course, you’ll want to start by subscribing to Freedom Twenty-Five, the blog that rescued you from RSS-less darkness in the first place.)

4) Bask in Silence

The typical North American almost never experiences a silent, distraction-free moment. At work, we’re immersed in work. At home, we’re parked in front of a TV or PlayStation. In the moments between, we’re listening to our iPods, talking on our phones, listening to the radio, or playing mobile games. We never give ourselves time to take a breath, look around, and see the world beyond what’s two inches in front of our face.

So turn off the music in your car. Throw away the shower radio. Read on the train. If you’re extreme and courageous, try this wild idea: Sit still for one minute and focus on  thinking about nothing. I doubt any of your friends have done it in the past month. If you can turn off the constant hum of trivial bullshit that makes up the background music of your life, you might find a degree of focus, wisdom and creativity that you currently lack. I think that’s worth giving up your 20x per day email habit and some funny cat pictures.