This week around the global water cooler, there’s been a lot of buzz about Slow Reading. And if there’s anything I like better than Slow Food, it’s Slow Reading–the kind we do when we’re thoughtful, focused, and engaged. The problem, though, is that the internet, for all its merits, is making slow reading harder to do. By rerouting the circuitry of our brains, it’s turning them all into monkey minds.
That at least seems to be the verdict of Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows…and of me. I can’t speak for your monkey mind, so I’ll just speak for mine.
As you know if you’ve been tracking this blog, I’m an advocate of Slow. Slow food, slow books, slow reading, slow life. I grow a lot of my own veggies, make my own jam, and buy from local farmers; I won’t buy an e-reader; my five-year-old cell phone is not shiny or smart. I even make time in my week to do nothing. But I also live and work in the plugged-in world. Which means that after a few hours on the internet, my mind can get as chattery as any other primate’s.
If I were a stronger monkey, I would unplug for most of each day. And I wouldn’t leave my browser open when I’m writing. But I am not that monkey. So today, I called in reinforcements. I downloaded the software Freedom, which blocks internet access for however long I choose. I set it for 120 minutes. That’s two hours of freedom. From myself. Freedom from surfing and skittering across the surface of things, which eats up my time and makes confetti of my concentration. It makes it all too easy to avoid the hard thinking I need to do when I write. Today, for example, I sat down to work on an essay about my relationship to nature. I’ve been stuck on it for awhile, so after writing two new sentences and fiddling with a third, I clicked open my email, skipped to Facebook, checked on my blog, and before you could say, “ooh-ooh-ooh,” my mind started swinging from the trees.
Monkey mind is great for foraging: a mango here, banana there, an insect under that juicy leaf. It’s great for gathering information. But as writer Scott Russell Sanders once said to me, there’s a difference between information and understanding, and between understanding and wisdom. Only slow thought, contemplative time, can lead me to understanding. And only a deeper kind of attention and time will lead me to wisdom.
I don’t know about you, but I’m after wisdom in this life. So from now on, I’m climbing off the jungle-gym for a few hours today. And tomorrow, for a little longer. And in my new spare time, I’m cracking open a nice, slow book. Up next on my pile: William Least Heat-Moon’s Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey. At 562 pages, it should be a nice, long trip.
For your slow reading pleasure this week, I’ve put the hyperlinks here: “The Art of Slow Reading” in The Guardian, and Slow Reading by John Miedema; Nicolas Carr’s The Shallows ; my first sally into slow books; another reason I won’t buy an e-reader; Scott Russell Sanders; Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey; Freedom