The benefits of being a slow reader

I’ve started doing something recently that seems to be having an interesting effect on me. It’s something I’ve started to mention to other people and they seem to be intrigued by it.

What’s the thing?

I’ve started reading old newspapers and magazines. I don’t mean really old (years old), but weeks and occasionally months old.

Why am I doing this?

It’s partly that I no longer have the time to keep up with the daily deluge of newspapers. Reading one or two daily newspapers plus half a dozen or more magazines and periodicals cover to cover every week just isn’t sustainable.

So, here’s what I’ve started doing to deal with the deluge. I’m still buying the same material (but with more of a focus on weekend editions of newspapers and monthly magazines and periodicals that have more time to analyse not just report), but I’m reading them in binge reading sessions backwards. I’m reading them a week or a month after they’ve been published.

What’s the benefit of doing this?

Reading news and analysis that’s old seems to mean that I can skim things much faster. It’s more immediately obvious what is nonsense, misjudged, ill-informed or, with 20/20 hindsight, absolute gibberish.

I can skim a whole newspaper and pick out the good bits in 60-seconds if the issue is old enough.

But this skimming must be done on paper. Skimming a newspaper or magazine is far faster on paper than scanning one online. On paper serendipity also kicks in. Online I’ve pre-selected sections that I’m theoretically interested in. On paper, I just look at the whole thing and occasionally find things that I never knew I wanted to know.

But the really key thing is that with old newspapers, periodicals and magazines I seem to see connections. The benefit of what I’m terming ‘media hindsight’ is that deep connections appear far quicker.

My mind is more relaxed too. I don’t feel as though I have to finish things fast. The pressure is somehow off.I’m also tearing things out, scribbling on them with a pen and stapling them to similar and connected ideas. Try doing that on a screen.

In short, I have more time to think and my thinking is more relaxed, less knee-jerk and more contextual. I’m even less stressed, less anxious about the state of world affairs and, dare I say it, a little bit smarter (which in my case isn’t difficult).

Every little helps as they say.

No time to be a kid these days

I’m aware of students that no longer attend university lectures, preferring instead to watch their lectures online at 1.5x speed (going backwards if they don’t understand something). However, I was having a chat with someone today and heard a new twist on this. Someone they know doesn’t have time to read their small child a book at bedtime. So the child has been given various audio books (or maybe the child found their own audio books I can’t recall) and the kid listens to bedtime stories at 1.5x speed.

Slow thinking: Getting all steamed up about ideas.

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Now here’s an interesting thing. I was at Imperial College today trying to figure out how to graphically represent the future of supercomputing. I had dozens of ideas but all were clichéd and none were any good. So I decided that I needed a cup of tea to unblock my brain. So off I went down the corridor to the kitchen to boil a kettle.

The kettle was more or less empty so being a reasonably considerate person I filled the kettle up with water and waited for it to boil. This took absolutely ages, so it seemed, but while waiting for the steam to appear an idea condensed in my brain. I suddenly had a bit of inspiration about how to solve the problem.

But here’s the thing. Next to the kettle there was a machine that provides boiling water in a matter of seconds (image above). This is obviously designed for people who can’t wait the sixty odd seconds it takes for a full kettle to boil. Instant gratification for people wanting a cup of instant coffee and such like. But had I used this fast, convenient modern marvel of a machine I suspect that inspiration would not have struck me. It was the doing nothing for a moment that lead to something. Instant ideas? No such thing.

Slow media

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Writing in my book Future Minds, which was published in 2010, I stated that a “Slow Thinking Movement will emerge, with people celebrating slow reading, slow writing and other forms of old-fashioned paper-based communication.” (Page 171). Seems that it’s here already. First there’s Delayed Gratification, a slow journalism magazine, which is like The Week, but slower and which takes it’s cues not from the previous week’s news but from the previous month’s reflections. Now I see British Airways has announced that passengers bored with the latest Hollywood movie can watch a train journey from Bergen in Norway to Oslo, second by second for a full seven hours. It’ called “Slow TV.”

Slightly reminds me of the VHS tapes that you could buy in the 1990s that ‘played’ a fish tank or a crackling log fire.

So what else that’s fast could we make slow? How about a slow sex movement?