This is perhaps the obvious follow up to my article this weekend about my favorite long-form essays and books that I read last year. I read a lot last year, several thousand articles and two dozen books in total. And yet, for all of that information, how much insight did I really find?
Critics of the internet often talk about the issue of distraction. There is always another article that we can read or another video to be watched, and that constant bombardment kills our ability to focus deeply on the issues that matter to us. That’s sort of the crux of Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, as well as several other writers.
Distraction might be a useful framework for thinking about this, but I think the issue is a bit different. It’s really easy to aimlessly wander from content to content, sucking in the universe of knowledge. The challenge comes when we try to organize that information in a fruitful way.
As an example, the problem is not that I read about North Korean policy developments. It’s interesting and on-going, even if knowing the ins-and-outs of the Supreme People’s Assembly doesn’t affect my job of being a venture capitalist (or does it?).
The problem is that I touch on the topic completely randomly in the course of the year. I honestly don’t remember the last thing that happened, so I have no context when I stumble upon a new article.
When I defended higher education on TechCrunch last year, I discussed the importance of primacy, the idea that we have to center our thoughts on one concept for a time in order to more deeply understand a topic or issue. I think the concept applies to all media though, not just education. It’s better to read twelve articles in an afternoon and think about them deeply, rather than one article a month and have the thoughts be completely scattered. It’s less about distraction and more about incoherence.
This primacy trend has already shown up in television, where viewers will watch an entire season of a show in one sitting. The same needs to happen in other spheres, like news. Chaos doesn’t have to be the order of the day, if we build the right products that allow us to group our thoughts together well.
So my goal for 2016 is to read less, and to read with more purpose. As a reading addict, we will see how that goes.
Image by Moyan Brenn used under Creative Commons.