Sometimes My Reading Resembles…

Sometimes my reading resembles the execution of a program on a computer. It never used to be like this. It also does not happen (most of the time) when I read books. Let me explain:

1. I was reading my email. There was one from academic.edu. I found a few good articles and clicked on each one of those for later reading (in the process, opening up a few tabs in my browser).

2. I finished the email, deleted it, logged into academic.edu and started downloading some of the articles (they were pdf). I started reading a particularly interesting one:

When Only Boolean Knowledge Can Save the World from Alien Invaders: The Planning and Implementation of “Invasion of the And-Ors”, a Flash-based …

This one is about teaching better search through Boolean expressions and how to use ANDs and ORs through a game like “Alien Invaders”.  I thought that was a bit of a cool concept.

3. In the very first para, I hit a reference to “TILT – Texas Information Literacy Tutorial”. Even though it was not a link, I opened a new tab, Googled it and started reading it.

4. While reading TILT, I came upon a term called “Active Learning”. I had some vague notions of what it was, but wanted to make sure. Googled “active learning” as well and started reading an article on Active Learning.

5. While reading , I paused and started thinking. Suddenly I felt I was like a program being executed in a computer.

A processor executes a few instructions, jumps to a procedure/function, stacks the existing context and starts executing the new set of instructions. If this new procedure has a call to another, it repeats this process of stacking stuff and jumping again. The only difference is that when it finishes execution of the process, it goes back to the original unless it is interrupted by an external event.

If you are not a bit of a geek, this para will make no sense to you. My apologies.

6. Anyway, this thought of my being a machine, made me open up another tab and type this post (because I wanted to capture it).

7. I skipped mentioning all the tweets and scoops I indulged in, during these three reads.

Now at the end of the post, I have a few thoughts:

1. Why do I do this? Because I can, is one answer. What was the equivalent when I am reading offline? Probably referring to a dictionary or making a note of these terms that I want to research later, or writing down an idea. It is not that different from these jumps but far less, I am sure.

2. Is this bad? I am sure it shows lack of focus. But I am learning a lot in the process and sharing bits of it. So is it bad? I don’t know the answer to that one.

3. If I want to arrest this habit, what should I do? For one, I can use a browser that do not allow tabs 🙂 But I guess, that may not completely solve the problem.

4. Should I even bother to arrest this problem? I am having fun. Not likely to happen, I think.

Now that I interrupted whatever you were doing, to read this post, let me hit Publish and go back to my reading. Share your thoughts on how you handle these situations.

A meta thought:

Are writers of articles like programmers. By throwing in references to other concepts and articles, are the causing the readers (the executing programs) take a few conditional jumps? If you think I am crazy, you may actually be right.

 

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5 thoughts on “Sometimes My Reading Resembles…

  1. A very thought-provoking post.

    There is a linguistic theory of dialog (the model propounded by Grosz and Sidner) that suggests that attention and focus are stack-based. When you are reading or engaging in a dialog about something, that something is at the top of the stack.

    Then you notice a sub-area. You push that sub-topic onto the stack and that becomes the object of focus. When you have explored the sub-area, you pop it off the stack and go back to the the earlier topic.

    That’s very similar to sub-procedures.

    I never quite thought of writing as programming, but yeah, now that I think of it … 😉

  2. Thanks. Would love to know more about the theory. Nice to know that mine was not just some crazy rambling and others think of it in those terms too.

  3. Dorai, You very succinctly captured what I go through all the time and I am sure what a lot of others experience as well. I sometimes wonder what happened to the hour I was supposed to get something done only to realize that I was very busy, learned a lot of other things only because I was jumping from one context to another. I guess that is the reality of the distracted world we all live in – perils of information at your finger tips or the next browser tab and search!! Rather than fight it I have just embraced it. At times when I really really want to get something done, I turn everything off and try my best to focus on the task at hand. Some times successfully and most of the times unsuccessfully!!

  4. Ram,
    I did an experiment after I wrote that post. Turned off all tabs and kept one (in which I was reading an ebook) and a couple of development tools to write some code. I lasted about 3 hours. I want to keep trying these experiments with various tasks to see where I end up. There is one conclusion, I can draw from all these. We are very curious people and don’t pay much attention to the order in which we learn or the dedicated time we want to spend on one thing. Multi-tasking is the new norm. I think it is a useful skill. At the end, do we achieve more? Or less? Not sure, I have the right answer. Is it distraction or deep dive? That, of course, depends on what you are switching to.

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