Thursday, September 09, 2004

Reading, Distractions, and Multitasking

The dang essay on reading has stalled. Wrote 500 decent words the other night, but now I seem to be thinking of stuff to write when I'm not near the computer or paper, and when I am, I find myself writing in too many directions. When I'm not so tired, I need to get just as much as I can out and plan to cut mightily. That is, I should practice what I teach.

Did run into this interesting quote yesterday from Pitkin's The Art of Rapid Reading: "One of the most useless and annoying practices is to attempt reading serious material while the mind is fixed on some other object. Millions of hours have been wasted in this futile endeavor. One man in a thousand can turn his undivided attention from one subject to another without effort. But the normal human being cannot shut the door on whatever is strongly interesting him at the moment and plunge into a book dealing with some totally different interest. Serious reading demands a whole mind. Rather than undertake it with half a mind, you might better not read at all. The ancient rule holds true here, 'One thing at a time, and do that well'" (55).

Okay, I'm not so sure about the "not reading at all bit," but this passage has given me something to think about. My students have so much competing for their attention by the time they reach my classroom, and most have conditioned themselves to believe that reading is not essential and not worth their trouble. Further, there are so many distractions in our lives. I can remember reading in my room at home or in my dorm room, and so caught up in the material (even stuff that at first seemed dull) that I didn't notice a tape had ended or that the sun had gone down. Now we are taught to multitask and it seems that little gets accomplished of the needed work. Reading is a solitary endeavor, one that we not only do when no human is around (or at least none are distracting us), but also we need to do with with minimal stuff going on.

I learned early on that during my morning reading/journal writing time, if I turn on my computer (even if I meant only to use it to play music), then I too often find myself checking emails, remembering some small task that I need to do, and looking for information I will need for some later project. These other tasks are important, but because I get distracted by them, I end up not doing this task that is important for my spiritual and mental health. The same thing can easily happen as the day goes by when my reading is for work.

Now I try to avoid music during my quiet times and during my reading of the day. If I find myself distracted by my thoughts, I will try to stretch or take some notes on the reading to force my mind to focus. If I get sleepy (my quiet times are in the morning, my best reading time), then I put on something that is light enough to keep me pepped up, but soft enough to not get me dancing around the room.

Speaking of which, I was listening the The Art of Sound at
KETR, but since that went off at eleven (an hour earlier than the schedule says), I've been listening to the excellent guitar work of the incomparable Joe Pass on his Simplicity album. I have it on tape, but wish I could get it on disc. I think there is a two disc set with this and another lp. My tape does say who the other players are and I need to find out who did the organ work. Nice. Anyway this is a good piece of music for reading. Smooth and swinging, but not too loud.

I think the next post on reading should be about developing the habit of reading each day. But for now, I must get out of here and do some real work.

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