Reading

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EdithKeeler
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Reading

Post by EdithKeeler » Sun Apr 14, 2019 10:42 am

I was talking to two friends recently. The three of us used to be VORACIOUS readers. Like a book a week or even more.

But we all confessed that none of us read anywhere near what we used to, and one admitted that he hadn’t read a book in months, though he’s a regular Audible listener. I, too, listen to a lot more books on tape these days than I read.

Anyone else similar?

In our discussion, one friend put it down to time or age, the other to limited attention span because of other media and doing stuff online. I personally think it’s probably a combination of all of that. I also read constantly at work, on screens, and I think eye fatigue is a factor as well.

Any other theories?

daylen
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Re: Reading

Post by daylen » Sun Apr 14, 2019 11:08 am

Sparse positive reinforcement. Less likely to encounter data that makes you rethink your models of how things work. This could mean you are living in a bubble and there are unknowns unknowns waiting for you beyond the horizon. Another possibility is that becoming more sensitive to differences could allow you to construct more complex models that require more fine-tuning.
Last edited by daylen on Sun Apr 14, 2019 11:09 am, edited 1 time in total.

jacob
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Re: Reading

Post by jacob » Sun Apr 14, 2019 11:09 am

I currently have 10 books checked out from the library (and 10 more on hold---bless them for having no upper limit on holds). Initially borrowing time is 3 weeks, but much of the time, I can extend to 4 weeks or even 5. These numbers are normal, so I'm "processing" about 1.5-3 books per week. I've done this for almost 30 years now.

I do find "being online" rather distracting when it comes to reading. I think something has definitely changed over the past 10ish years. My favorite hypothesis is the creation of tabbed browsing. I just counted 54 open tabs in my browser (browsers, actually, I have two 23" screens both of which are filled with a browser overlaid on a few terminals, mail programs, etc.) as I write this. While some of these tabs hold sites such as this, a lot of them are half-read articles or articles filed for later. TBH, I'm not sure they're much of a net-positive. I used to use the net for finding interesting things---then I would read the entire site. These days, links come at me from all directions/particularly aggregators ... and I don't think "retention" or "immersion" is nearly as high.

In particular, I think I'm developing more into a scanning type of reading. I'll read an article online but if you ask me what it's about, I won't be able to give you much of any details beyond the fact that I know they/it exists on the internet(*)---as in "I read an article about this and I could probably find it". I think the same "brain"-issue exists for reading books although the transition is not complete.

(*) IOW, a real case of "google-brain".

Part of this, I suspect, is also because I'm either/and a) getting older and the remaining plastic parts of my brain are just fewer; or b) [Something other voracious readers have told me] that after you've read beyond a couple of thousand books, the amount of actual new knowledge drops a lot because of diminishing returns. IOW, there comes a point where you have to read 300 pages to find maybe 1 or 2 sentences/concepts/perspectives you haven't already seen.---All those heavily dumbed-down-to-6th-grade non-fiction popularizations are ultimately rather useless ... same goes for dime-a-dozen works of fiction. This also contributes to the scanning style of book reading. You're eventually just reading slightly different takes on the same-old and most of them aren't that great [anymore?].

(Some people have blamed word-processing software for this. Authors now spend 1000 pages to say what used to fit within 150 pages.)

From where I'm currently standing, there are practically no books I go through that "blow my mind" or "where almost every single sentence" is a key to greater understanding. (In my case, this frustration also spills into my attempts at writing. It's very hard not to apply the same criticism to my own efforts.)

So I think this could also be part of the problem. Relating to the word-processing issue above, I've also tried writing long-hand so as to really think about each sentence as opposed just "puking" out content.

Indeed, I think part of the problem might be that we're no longer reading and writing anymore. Instead we're scanning/consuming content the quality of which is decreasing thanks to modern productivity suites.

PS: FWIW, I don't link audio books at all. Ditto youtube talks and the likes where I pause them and read the transcript instead.

Jason
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Re: Reading

Post by Jason » Sun Apr 14, 2019 11:47 am

A few years back I was in a conference room with an associate discussing something to do with our bullshit jobs. An older, post-woodstock, still smoking pot, riddle me this associate stops in and hi-jacks our conversation. To my utter incredulity, he starts mumbo-jumboing about Hegelian dialectics. My other associate failed out of community college so he just sat there silent like he feels compelled to do anytime someone mentions a book. However, in the infinite wisdom of the universe, I was studying Hegelian dialectics that very fucking morning. It was the most unforeseen event in the history of the universe. And to the amazement of all in the room, I tore this hippy dippy asshole a new one until he just slinked his pseudo-bullshit self out of the room. The upshot, it was the most meaningless yet rewarding moment of my life. And I only have books to thank for that.

bigato
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Re: Reading

Post by bigato » Sun Apr 14, 2019 12:03 pm

I’ve been in the same situation described by Edith but started reading again naturally after I deleted all my social media accounts and unsubscribed from netflix.

platypus
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Re: Reading

Post by platypus » Sun Apr 14, 2019 2:02 pm

EdithKeeler wrote:
Sun Apr 14, 2019 10:42 am
In our discussion, one friend put it down to time or age, the other to limited attention span because of other media and doing stuff online. I personally think it’s probably a combination of all of that. I also read constantly at work, on screens, and I think eye fatigue is a factor as well.
I suspect online media has been a huge factor in my attention span for reading. Growing up with limited computer access, I could read all day with no problems. But by 20 reading books was a struggle; staying attentive for more than a half hour was near impossible. On the flip side, I could spend all day going down the wikipedia rabbit hole.

In the last few months I've limited time spent at my PC, and my attention span has slowly returned. I can do 2-4 hours at a time now, depending on how interesting the material is.

Eye fatigue is big as well; on days where I spend most of the workday at my computer, I'm unable to read properly after work. The words will start arranging themselves wrong on the page; it's like a temporary dyslexia.

Jin+Guice
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Re: Reading

Post by Jin+Guice » Sun Apr 14, 2019 9:49 pm

Reading is one of my favorite things. It's hard to get me more excited than when I find a good new book or even an average new book. I sincerely dislike podcasts and I don't really like watching video very much. Joining this forum has decreased the amount of books I'm reading by about 50% because I spend so much time reading new content, reading old threads and writing. It's also increased the quality of books I'm reading by about 25%.

Lately I've been thinking I spend too much time reading and not enough time doing.

@Jason: I sincerely wish I could've been there for that. It's currently French Quarter Fest in New Orleans, which is essentially a convention of those fucking people. I'm inspired by how your always studying a certain topic.

cmonkey
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Re: Reading

Post by cmonkey » Sun Apr 14, 2019 9:49 pm

I find it inspiring that folks on this forum read so much. It's something I struggle with and go through phases where I read a lot and then I don't for a while. It's the one regret I have that I haven't maintained a good level. Electronics certainly play a role but they used to play more of a role for me, as I have gotten much more control. My number one piece of advice for anyone trying to read more - restrict access to computers/tvs!

In a world with so much passive entertainment it's a wonder that anyone reads anymore. But then this is nothing new....
The pleasures of urban populations have become
mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening
to the radio, and so on.

EdithKeeler
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Re: Reading

Post by EdithKeeler » Sun Apr 14, 2019 11:08 pm

From where I'm currently standing, there are practically no books I go through that "blow my mind" or "where almost every single sentence" is a key to greater understanding.

So I think this could also be part of the problem.
Yes, this is a good observation. I think this is true for me as well. I think when it comes to non-fiction, my tendency used to always load up on books on the topic that I was interested in. Now I look specific things up and read and explore that way, and then read books to get deep into it if it was interesting to me. Right now I’m on a bit of a lull in terms of subjects I’m really excited to learn more about that would include wanting to dig deep into issues via a book.

Fiction-wise.... well, I’m a little frustrated with the state of fiction just now. There’s not much that I’m encountering right now that I think is very good. Books touted by the best sellers lists have been leaving me cold lately. IMHO, we live in a time where more books than ever are being published and are available.... but it’s really really dry in terms of quality of subject matter and writing.

BookLoverL
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Location: England

Re: Reading

Post by BookLoverL » Mon Apr 15, 2019 1:53 am

I had a lull in reading for a bit for a few years despite having been an avid reader my whole life, but I started reading a lot more in the last couple of years once I started doing my current part-time office work, because I read on my lunch break (there is nothing else to do at that office during lunch except eat lunch or go for a short walk). I found that once I was reading a bit, then I had more desire/ability to pull myself away from other things to read something when I was at home, too.

Interestingly, I barely read any fiction before, despite reading it all the time when I was a teenager. These days I mostly read non-fiction. I buy the occasional book, but I select most of my books by going to the library and looking through all the sections, borrowing whatever jumps out at me, and usually coming away with between four and ten books. I'd say I get through between 0.5 and 2 books per week, though I could get through more if I wasn't busy with other things that needed doing.

Now, it's true that I'm a bit of a nerd and am interested in learning more about most topics in general. But I've really been glad that I've read many of the books I borrowed, and I wouldn't have thought to read them if I hadn't gone and browsed the library. That's why I rate being physically present in front of the books when trying to choose what to read, and only use online book vendors if there's a specific but unusual title that I know I definitely want.

Atlas
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Re: Reading

Post by Atlas » Mon Apr 15, 2019 5:31 am

@jacob:
If you use chrome, here is a tab blocker:
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/deta ... ated?hl=en

7Wannabe5
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Re: Reading

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Mon Apr 15, 2019 6:40 am

I was the school librarian's pet when I was a child, so I almost always have a stack I am reading through. As is common at midlife, I shifted away from literary fiction and towards memoir and collections of personal essays. I also enjoy wide variety of non-fiction which is either worthwhile, amusing, or original. Even if these books are written in light-weight journalistic style, these days it is easy to search references and skim/confirm denser sources, and a decent writer can engage you in their own adventure of learning about the topic at hand. Recently, meandering on path off of reading about permaculture, I have even found myself very much enjoying humorous essays on the topic of hunting and fishing.

Current Stack:

"The Hungry Brain"-Guyenet
"An Economist Walks Into a Brothel"-Schrager
"You're Not Lost if You Can Still See the Truck"- Heavey
"The Smart Girl's Guide to Polyamory"- Winston
"The Soil and Health"- Howard
"Braiding Sweetgrass"- Kimmerer
"Spooner"- Dexter

prognastat
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Re: Reading

Post by prognastat » Mon Apr 15, 2019 10:53 am

Growing up I used to read multiple books a week and was constantly in the library dropping off my old books only to borrow new ones. To the point where I eventually had to go to a library in a bigger city because I was running out of stuff to read in our little village library.

Now I can count the amount of books I read in a year on one hand.

A big reason for the reduction is simply less time considering I spent a lot less time on school than I do now at work. However I have definitely noticed a decrease in my ability to focus on a single thing for hours on end like I used to be able to which I suspect is a result of the internet. Finally I think there's also the problem of a glut of media content being made available constantly these days meaning there is a higher amount of competition for my time.

Kriegsspiel
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Re: Reading

Post by Kriegsspiel » Mon Apr 15, 2019 10:58 am

EdithKeeler wrote:
Sun Apr 14, 2019 10:42 am
Any other theories?
Maybe you are forcing yourself to read about things that don't light your fire? When I'm reading really engrossing things I find it's easy to make the time to read.

Or maybe you've been unconsciously concentrating on non-cerebral activities? That may be more likely if you're still listening to audiobooks. I'm guessing you wouldn't say you've become less curious, right? EDIT: Well, maybe that is the case :D
Last edited by Kriegsspiel on Mon Apr 15, 2019 11:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

oldbeyond
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Re: Reading

Post by oldbeyond » Mon Apr 15, 2019 11:12 am

I have always been a bit fidgety, when I was I kid my imagination was too lively to allow me to concentrate for too long anyways, but I'm sure the easier kicks of blogs and forums have shortened my attention span somewhat. I think it's rather the constant presence of a smartphone that's done the most damage. It has generally made me less deliberate in my actions, and picking up a book is deliberate to me. I'm nowhere near jacobs level of erudition, but I find it hard to believe that I would ever catch up to the human canon. Seems like there'll always be more classics, history and philosophy to read.

EdithKeeler
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Re: Reading

Post by EdithKeeler » Mon Apr 15, 2019 8:11 pm

Or maybe you've been unconsciously concentrating on non-cerebral activities? That may be more likely if you're still listening to audiobooks. I'm guessing you wouldn't say you've become less curious, right? EDIT: Well, maybe that is the case :D
Heheh... I think that a lot of my “interests” lately haven’t been fun or truly interesting to me. So the stuff I’ve been reading lately have been things like “Caring for your Aging Parents” and “The Eldercare Companion.” I’m not really dying to pick that stuff up.

I used to read a lot of financial stuff, but I got to the point where everything I picked up was kind of about the same. I went through a phase where I was pretty interested in the history of Ancient Rome and the history of Christianity... but I got sated. Tried to get into the history of the Middle East.... but it didn’t really catch my interest.

I used to try to read at lunch at work. But I can’t read more than five minutes without getting interrupted unless I go read in my car.

I’ve decided to just be more mindful about reading and am going to pick something to be determined off my bookcase tonight.

black_son_of_gray
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Re: Reading

Post by black_son_of_gray » Mon Apr 15, 2019 9:18 pm

If the motivation for reading is to learn more about the world, to develop some mental framework for understanding what's going on*, then maybe this is instructive:

Consider the components of a generic "artificial intelligence" (AI). You've got 1) a processor (i.e. hardware), 2) an algorithm (i.e. software), and 3) a training dataset.

In coarse human terms, you might say that the processor is your IQ - the raw computational power. The algorithm is the pattern of thinking, worldview, or lens that you feed the data through. Maybe this is the scientific method, postmodernism, systems thinking, etc. Lastly, the training dataset is the stuff that you hone your algorithm on, the supposed "ground truth" that, hopefully, allows the algorithm to effectively and accurately deal with new, unencountered data. Two things to be concerned about here: the size, and the quality. With respect to size, typically, the bigger the better, unless… the quality is poor. The popular example of this is the face-recognition software that performs horribly on darker-skinned people (or, you know, a huge chunk of all of humanity) because it was trained on a giant library of images that mostly contained light-skinned faces that weren't fully representative of all faces. The dataset was big, but of low quality.

Of the three things (IQ, thinking patterns, training dataset), our IQ is mostly baked into the cake. Thinking patterns - the algorithms - can be developed, and are certainly worth developing. These can be developed in part by reading, although you don't necessarily have to read that much to develop a decent number of algorithms. For example, whole worldviews can sometimes be pretty well represented in single books (e.g. the Bible, a science textbook, foundational philosophy books, etc.).

Reading is vital for your training dataset, though. Reading more means having a bigger training dataset… BUT, quality matters too. Which brings us to books and online content. Both can be good sources of both quantity and quality, but I still prefer traditionally published books because 1) barriers to entry and 2) a revision process. Anyone can put something up on a blog they've banged out in 15 minutes, but not everyone can meet the standards of a publisher. That doesn't make it automatically high quality, but it does act as a coarse quality filter. The longer form and process of publishing a books typically means more thought has been put into the topic, both by the author and by various editors along the way (who also have skin in the game for the book to be decently executed). Multiple people have also read the book before it comes out. And, simply put, sometimes it takes a whole book to say what the author is trying to say. Online reading material almost always over-promises and under-delivers because the business model is driven more by clicks and views than content, and by ultra-compressed media cycles, which tends to lower quality and sophistication. Books are less actively gaming your brain's addiction-prone circuitry. (If, for no other reason, simply by being long. See also: reinforcement schedules)

So one interpretation of @Jacob and @EdithKeeler (and no doubt others in this thread) finding few compelling or impressive morsels in their recent reading is that their training datasets are already both big in size and high in quality. So each new book raises their algorithm's accuracy only a very tiny amount, something like +0.000001 whereas early on, a single book might nudge the meter +1 or +10. (An alternate, less likely interpretation could be that they are bad at finding new quality training data.)

It's the training datasets that people carry around that are most impressive and useful to me (and mostly under a person's control to increase!). This forum has lots of smart people - probably a few 3 or 4 sigma IQs - and a number of worldviews/thinking patterns represented. Very few of the posts, however, are intellectually challenging (that is, require a high IQ) or view a topic through an unfamiliar lens (that is, after a few years of reading this forum I don't find much daily novelty in the thinking patterns behind most posts). But the single data points - the individual references to something read in a book or obscure corner of the internet - that posters here are able to chuck out in a conversation... that's the stuff that fleshes out my own training dataset. That's the stuff that underpins cross-discipline connections, insights, creativity. That's the stuff I love here, and the kind of thing that increases in proportion with the number of books read ... or whatever online proxy you want to use. So huzzah to the well-read!

*There are other perfectly fine reasons to read. Entertainment, for example.

BookLoverL
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Re: Reading

Post by BookLoverL » Tue Apr 16, 2019 1:45 am

I mean, when I read at lunch at work I DO read in my car, FWIW. The office I work in is small and open plan anyway, so there's nowhere else to eat except at a desk, and there's no way I'm doing that.

My current borrow list from the library, some of which I've read and some of which I haven't:

Moonwalking with Einstein (would recommend, it's about one man's journey to become the US Memory Champion in one year having never worked on memory techniques before)
Being Alive (a poetry collection, definitely would recommend)
The Joy Of Laziness: how to slow down and live longer (haven't read this one because after I got it home and looked in the contents it looked far more boring than what I'd thought from the cover - from the chapter headings it was more about scientific reasons why laziness might be good, without much practical or philosophical content)
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (would definitely recommend, it's about having the courage to be emotionally vulnerable, and how this leads to a better life)
Teach Yourself: Understand Eastern Philosophy (I'm about half way through this, enjoying it so far as I didn't know much except for surface level stuff about most of the philosophies covered)
The seasons (another poetry collection, haven't read this one yet)
Brilliant memory (a book about training your memory, haven't read, not sure I can be bothered)
The Mind Gym: Relationships (enjoyable but not life-changing, a lot of useful tips for a beginner but if you're already advanced in relationship knowledge it won't tell you anything new really)
Friendfluence: the hidden ways in which friendships make us who we are (haven't read this one yet)
Out of the maze: a simple way to change your thinking and unlock success (the sequel to Who Moved My Cheese, a good but not life-changing book (maybe would be life-changing for somebody pre-FIRE-discovery) but also very short so it didn't take long to read)
Rewild Yourself: 23 spell-binding ways to make nature more visible (only read half of this so far, had a bunch of good tips about seeing more wildlife, but not half as much philosophy as I was hoping for)

Going to the library again on Wednesday, so I'll probably take some of the books I've read back and get some new ones out. Will have to see what grabs my attention.

suomalainen
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Re: Reading

Post by suomalainen » Tue Apr 16, 2019 9:38 am

black_son_of_gray wrote:
Mon Apr 15, 2019 9:18 pm
But the single data points - the individual references to something read in a book or obscure corner of the internet - that posters here are able to chuck out in a conversation... that's the stuff that fleshes out my own training dataset. That's the stuff that underpins cross-discipline connections, insights, creativity. That's the stuff I love here, and the kind of thing that increases in proportion with the number of books read ... or whatever online proxy you want to use. So huzzah to the well-read!
+1 Great post.

Jason
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Re: Reading

Post by Jason » Mon Apr 22, 2019 5:32 am

I believe Warren Buffet doesn't own a smart phone.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/21/billion ... -life.html

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