broadsideblog

Why You Should Read This, And Everything, More Slowly

In Media on December 30, 2009 at 8:26 am
A visitor takes a book off a shelf at the The ...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

How much do you read every day? How quickly?

One writer makes an interesting, and I think, cogent argument for reading less, slowly. He links it to the slow food movement, the notion being that less is more, a life that is consumed with thoughtful, selective pleasure rather than enormous gulping bites and swallows, is one worth living.

I agree.

The only blogs are a a few I read here. I read three papers every day and about 20+ magazines a month. But if I am not also reading a book, or several, (let alone looking at art, listening to music, watching a performance), my brain is going dead. I see a large and crucial difference between being informed (news) and entertained/instructed/forced into reflection.

It does me, and many others, little good to just know a lot of stuff. When was the last time, regardless of medium, you read something that left you sitting there in awe at its power and beauty? What was it you read?

Here’s the interesting argument in Forbes, by writer Trevor Butterworth:

If the moral of this story is that media commentary is like navigating in fog, the crisis of journalism is, at this point, sufficiently real to be seen as part of a wider conceptual crisis brought about by new-media technology: a crisis that is located, primarily, in the cognitive effects of acceleration and its cultural backwash. In short, a relentless, endless free diet of fast media is bad for your brain. Generation Google ( GOOG news people )–those who have never known a world without the Internet–it turns out, not only cannot use Google effectively, they don’t even know enough about how to search for information to know they can’t use Google effectively. The idea that the kids are whizzes at multimedia tasking is a platitude confected by middle-aged techno gurus to peddle their expertise as explainers of generational difference. In fact, relentless multitasking erodes executive function. And while the brain may not be overloaded by 34 gigabytes of brute information a day, it appears that too many of these mental quanta are the equivalent of empty calories. PlayStation and texting need to be balanced out by reading novels, handwriting (for old-fashioned digital dexterity) and playing with other live people if you want your child to develop to be an effective, skill-acquiring, empathetic adult….

The idea of consuming less, but better, media–of a “slow word” or “slow media” movement–is a strategy journalism should adopt. It will be painful, as it involves thinking about media as something sustainable, local and (hardest of all for hard-bitten hacks) pleasurable. But as the historian Michael Schudson has argued, it’s simply unrealistic to expect the public to read newspapers as a daily personal moral commitment to democracy. Instead, look to what Dave Eggers has brilliantly shown with the San Francisco Panorama, namely that the physical quality of a newspaper and the aesthetic pleasure of reading can make people so excited about journalism that they’ll buy it–not just conceptually, but in terms of parting with cash.

Eggers could well be the Alice Waters (queen of American slow foodies) of the news media, McSweeny’s its Chez Panisse. But even more explicit in advocating principles of slow media is Monocle, a luxuriously bound and produced monthly by Tyler Brule, a journalist turned creative guru and, crossing Jane Jacobs with John Ruskin, an apostle of a 21st-century, globally aware aestheticism in everything from a cup of espresso to urban planning and airline uniforms.

  1. It might be too early for this “slow media” movement to gain traction, because we’re all still absorbed by the novelty of what our gadgets can deliver to us immediately. The “slow food” movement grew out of a rejection of the food industry, as well as a desire to return to the days when families gathered around a table to catch up on each others’ lives. But we didn’t get there until we fully felt the effects of fast food restaurants and catching meals on the fly to accommodate our ever-increasing schedule overload. In other words, I think people have to feel the pain before the pendulum swings back in the other direction. Like anything else, I think technology should be enjoyed in moderation. It can be addicting, no doubt. But nothing pleases me more than sitting down and reading “Vanity Fair” cover to cover, or curling up with a good novel. I think newspapers are more in danger than any other printed media–it was always diposable in the first place and can thus be easily replaced by more immediate channels.

  2. imho, thanks. I think it’s binary, as so many people are still gulping fast food several times a week, or watching TV while they eat or eating in their car, all of which are gross to some others.

    Your ability, let alone pleasure in, devoting undivided, uninterrupted attention to a magazine or book is something I share. I suspect strongly it’s also very much generational as CPA — continuous partial attention (ugh) — becomes the norm.

    I disagree about newspapers’ disposability (although the stats likely prove me wrong). I do read a few papers on-line but so much prefer sitting down with one on paper, as I do with three every day. I loathe being attached to technology 24/7. Makes me feel like a cow attached to a miking machine.

    • Perhaps it depends on the paper. Hate my local options, and getting the NY Times everyday just to read the op-ed columnists and the world news seems a waste when I can read just those bits online.

  3. True. When I recently visited Atlanta, I was looking forward to reading the local paper — it was really, really bad. My three are the WSJ, NYT and NY Post. I read the WashPost, Toronto Star and Globe and Mail (and some UK and French) online.

    I also read, like many journos, trolling for story, blog and book ideas and actually keeping a clips file works fine for me in this respect.

  4. “I loathe being attached to technology 24/7. Makes me feel like a cow attached to a miking machine.”

    This? Is the truest statement I’ve read in months. Maybe years.

    It should be the subtitle of your book.

    Unless I steal it.

  5. oooooh, you steal from me, very bad karma! But you know what I mean, certainly.

  6. In the spirit of increasing quality and reducing quantity, let’s resolve to stop reading Ethan Epstein’s blog who, among other things, thinks that preserving Auschwitz is a waste of time.
    All he is after is our attention.
    http://trueslant.com/ethanepstein/

  7. Hm, dare I agree? :-)

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