I had a thought earlier about how often I consume and how little I digest. I’m not talking about my propensity to inhale cheese. This is more of an intellectual intake. It’s amazing that we can have the entire world an arm’s length away from our face. We’ve all got the internet in the palms of our hands these days. Hell, some people have psalms in the palms of their hands these days. I’m not sure how much I read or watch in a day. I literally couldn’t tell you everything I passed on my journey down the information super highway today. There was too much and I wasn’t paying enough attention. That’s sort of the crux of what I’m talking about. So often I’ll get to the end of an article/thinkpiece/rant/movie/episode and reflect well that was interesting, wasn’t it? That’ll usually be where my interaction with that text ends. If I cast my mind back to it later, I’ll recall only scant details. I think they call it The Google Effect (would looking it up be ironic?). Essentially I assume I can always find it and re-read it if it’s important enough.
I was in the bathroom maybe an hour ago reading an article, got to the end and asked myself how much of that did I really take in? Yes, I appreciate the juxtaposition of thinking about digestion while sitting on the loo. I thought back to learning techniques used in school. Doing book reports or going through supplied questions about the texts. Provoking thought on something I’d just taken in. Just because I’d devoured it didn’t mean my mind took any nutrients before flushing it out. I started to think about my regular daily intake and how much I retain when I rise the following day. Maybe 1% at a conservative guess. If that’s true, then why read so much? Why am I bothering to cover so much ground if its footprint is so small in my brain?
I’m thinking about my habits and what they do for me. Modern online life revolves around getting as much as we can all the time. Apps and websites are designed in a manner that encourages consuming more and more. It makes sense. They want to sell ads and monetise our consumption. They want us buying their products, subscribing, etc etc. Synapses in our brain are constantly firing off as the carefully cultivated content hits all of our pleasure/reward centres. They know what they’re doing. Do I? What’s the point of reading so much if it’s not doing anything for me? If I go to a buffet and eat till I’m in pain, did I really get more value for money than if I’d stopped when I was satisfied?
I don’t know for sure how you all use the internet, but did any of that ring true for you? If so, I want to put something out there (I’ll probably say this then forget about it (I can just google it later)) that I think might help to ring more out of a text. After you’ve finished an article/thinkpiece/rant/movie/episode, ask yourself questions. Do a little book report for yourself. Ask how the piece made you feel. What arguments did you particularly like that it put forth? Was there anything that felt underdeveloped or you disagreed with? Why? What were your takeaways from the piece? If you were to tell someone about it at a party, how would you phrase it? What important or novel things did you learn from it? How was your perception of the piece shaped by your wider societal views?
It sounds like a waste of energy, but if I did this for everything I took in and only consumed two pieces in a day, I’d probably come out having learned more than I do at the moment. I may read 20-30+ pieces in any given day, but retain very little. In retrospect, that sounds like a waste of energy.