The text: “Are You Reading Too Much?” by Mark Shead at productivity501.com
The media: blog post
The thought: Reading too much without devoting time to our own unique thoughts may be detrimental to productivity.
The lesson: A reminder of the importance of critical reading and thinking
Am I guilty of reading too much? Although I spend a lot of time online, like my peers, I have a feeling that I spend more time reading online than they do. Reading is my principle online time-suck. I rarely watch any TV, in real-time or online, and since I cut out Netflix from my budget, movies are a rare occasion, one used for getting out of the house.
I read excessively, and maybe I’m subconsciously proud of that. From my Google Reader feeds to links on intelligent but more-than-slightly frivolous online magazines like Jezebel and The Frisky, I probably read over 10,000 words a day. I always figured, in the back of my mind, that reading was an acceptable and intelligent way to spend my time. Usually, I also read a novel or some entertaining nonfiction on my commute. Gone, apparently, are the days of poring endlessly over cute pictures, and although I read a few comics, I even feel sometimes that my list of feeds lacks purely visual content.
A productivity article titled “Are You Reading Too Much?” recently piqued my intellectual panic. The article’s thesis holds that reading too much without critical thought or innovative work of our own, causes us to stagnate. (All this according to Einstein, believe it or not.) At first glance, it seems completely logical. Upon reading this, my own brain immediately flew into defense mode, countering that hey, I actually do a lot of my own thinking when I’m not reading — talking with friends about important topics, writing in my own journal, (supposedly) championing this blog and its mission. But my defenses seemed weak even to myself. Maybe I really am just an information consumer who doesn’t think for herself!! What should I do?
For me, the difficult part about gauging productivity is that I’m not sure what my “work” is right now in life, and thus I can’t quite complete the equation of [less mindless reading]+[more time for unique thought]=[PRODUCTIVE WORK]. “WORK” is the unknown. In some ways, I consider myself a writer — not always of creative things, but a writer nonetheless — and at least an amateur musician. Productivity for me feels like a good solid chunk of writing, or bringing a new song into the world. Never mind that sometimes my writing or my songs aren’t noteworthy. When I’m at my day job, ideally one in schools, productivity means helping students understand and think for themselves, which seems rather ironic — that my contribution is to help others contribute. Pretty stark, pretty self-explanatory. But this brings up another link that recently gave me pause (one found through YesandYes.org, a feed on my Google Reader): Obvious to you. Amazing to others.
The gist of this second internet gem is that our creativity often gets pushed to the backburner because we believe that our ideas are not unique enough, or are too obvious to be innovative and valuable. The problem with this belief is that it is frequently the most obvious ideas that are the most innovative, and it is up to us to follow through with them to be as amazing as the other people we look up to, the ones we think we can never emulate.
So how do we avoid “reading too much” and relegating our creative but obvious ideas to the backs of our minds? I propose more critical reading and synthesis — even something like this blog post, wherein we think about what we’re reading and what we do with that reading. It’s fine to read a lot, but without reflecting on what we’ve read, we haven’t done much besides practice deciphering letters and words. A new thought for this blog could be a weekly roundup, and potentially (hopefully) a multidimensional discussion of the most outstanding things we have read — whether online or in print. That is, after all, what started this project in the first place!
Here’s to a mission of critical literacy.