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Subject: Audiodidact and distraction management vs. speed reading
From: Reinhard Engels
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 2004 21:06:48 -0700 (PDT)
Hi Chris,

My responses to a couple more issues you raise (more

> Audiodidact - smart name. I've tried similar things
> listening to audiobooks while walking to work, but
> have given up that recently because I found that I
> was missing out on the "thinking time" that comes
> with the walk. I was filling my head with other
> stuff rather than just enjoying the walk and using
> it to think things through.

This is something I'm trying to balance. Nietzsche
writes that the worst thing one can do in the morning,
when one is at one's brightest and most alert, is
read. The idea is it's better to think one's own
thoughts, do one's own creating. Though he didn't
extend this warning to walking, a thinking time he
also valued highly, one imagines it applies
(audiobooks were not much of an issue in the 1880's).
It's a valid warning in both cases, I think, and I
heed it. But I've found that when I'm doing some
menial chore I'm not at my best and brightest, and
that then listening is a great gain with very little
loss. I've also found that at certain times walking
time is not good thinking time, and can be profitably
redeemed by listening to an audiobook. Example: when
I'm walking home from work, all I can think about is
work related stresses. These thoughts are neither
pleasant nor particularly productive. An audiobook is
a good way to snap out of the day's business. I take
my job seriously, but I also take my private and
family life seriously, and an audio book for the walk
home frees me to attend to and enjoy the latter
without materially compromising the former. I'd never
listen to an audiobook on my way *to* work. That's
double prime time (morning plus walking, minus the
aftershocks of a working day's distresses).

> Speed reading - this is a favourite with self
> improvement type courses, but there must be a
> balance. i like reading a novel slowly
> sometimes....yet if I have to read reports or
> research at work I want to get through it quickly
> while spotting the key points. One thing I
> sometimes do with a newspaper is read the first
> paragraph of all the news stories these are usually
> written (by trained journalists) as a summary of the
> whole story, so in a few minutes you can read the
> whole paper and get the general outline of the day's
> news.

Though I don't know much about it, I have to admit I'm
a little prejudiced against the idea of speed reading.
It doesn't seem to me that it can work, in any
meaningful way, that at best it's an impressive stunt.
Reading isn't purely passive. It's not like eating,
passively absorbing intellectual nutrients. Reading is
also reacting. I butcher my books with underlines and
objections (cringe, fellow librarians). There's a
famous story in the literature of psychology about a
man with a photographic memory, who could perform
astonishing feats of recollection, but was miserable
and useless because he was unable to distinguish the
important from the trivial. A "successful" speed
reader would be like this man. I think there's a
reason that students still pack lecture halls, despite
millennia of writing (a "technology" Socrates
deplored, fearing it was a crutch that would weaken
the faculties of memory and reason), centuries of
printing, and decades of internet. The speed of speech
is the best speed for learning. It makes evolutionary
sense, among other things. Go faster, "overclock" your
learning mechanisms, and you get "lossy" learning. You
get shallow learning. I think there is still room for
greater reading/learning efficiency, but I don't think
it's to be achieved by packing more words into less
time. I think you'll get it by reclaiming lost and
underutilized scraps of time when the mind is free
(and restless, even, clamoring to be employed) but the
body isn't, and by the simple expedient of
"distraction management" (wasting less time). I don't
have the resources to do a large scale empirical study
(nor am I aware of one), but I'm amazed at the gains
I've made for myself in less than two years fumbling
along these lines.


 © 2002-2005 Reinhard Engels, All Rights Reserved.