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During my non-reading phase I did sometimes wonder what had happened to me. In one of the week end papers i found an article that offered a very acceptable rationale to me. One that would suggest I wasnt alone in finding it difficult to settle into reading lengthy texts. Tech expert Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brain, argues that our "our hyperactive online habits are damaging to the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information". The technologies we use to find store and share information can reroute our neural pathways. Carr describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by "tools of the mind" - from the alphabet, to maps, to the printing press, the clock and the computer. Discoveries in neuroscience have shown how the human brain makes patterns for expediency, and how it changes in response to our experiences. The internet has made us very adept at scanning and skimming but in the process, Carr argues, we are losing our capacity for concentration, contemplation and reflection. The internet invites rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Research has shown that office workers glance at their email inbox 30 or more times in an hour. My own experience causes me not to doubt this. Sometimes I would turn off the email notification if I was needing to get something done by a deadline but most of the time, I have to admit, I enjoyed the distraction of checking emails. Tracy Seeley, an English Professor at the University of San Fransisco has noticed that many of her students have difficulty concentrating on a text for more than a minute at a time.
Our technology has trained us away from slow concentrated reading. Some who have recognised this advocate for slow reading. Tracy Seeley has a blog about it. Nicholas Carr does too. Ramona Koval mentioned it during one of the Bookshow episodes last week. Apparently, there is a whole movement towards slow: slow food, slow travel and now slow reading. When applied to reading it's about the practice of the intentional reduction in the speed of reading for the purpose of greater comprehension, learning or just plain old pleasure. It's about reading things that take a bit more time: reading things fully rather than just skimming. And for me its about taking a book with me to read while I wait for a friend, an appointment, a tram. It's about reading in bed before I turn out the light and sometimes turning off the TV and curling up on the magic carpet of my couch, ready to be other than who i am, just for a brief while.