This article has been published on Medium.

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And the ruin of the human brain in the age of distractions

This book is a combination of a personal story and reflections of a world in which the art of reading for deep contemplation and flow has lost to the newer, more addictive and unsavoury sources of information and dopamine hits — the internet.

I read this book last week sitting in the Neilson Hays Library in Bangkok and made a few notes while reading. Summarising them below as the key takeaways from the text.

Some of the observations apply to literature but I’ve realised most of the author’s thoughts apply to all kinds of texts in general as well.

1. Fallacies of teaching literature in the classroom

1.1. The classroom tries to ‘make sense’ of literature by breaking down each metaphor and form.
1.2. This doesn’t go with the actual creative process with which the author has written the text. The flow of storytelling remains mysterious to the authors themselves.
1.3. In schools, most students are forced to reach just to finish off an assignment.

2. What killed literature?

2.1. Technology has created a sea of endless distraction which is the internet.
2.2. This has led to the lack of appreciation for long form written textual content and the lack of patience to consume it.
2.3. There has been a ‘breakdown of authority’ specifically due to the blogosphere and social media.

3. The new ‘information’ landscape

3.1. ‘Information’ has become a distraction or diversion. It has become a form of entertainment rather than empowerment.
3.2. People’s brains are busy trying to process information from all directions that they’re losing the tendency to think and feel.
3.3. All the information online feels important and claims our attention — but almost none of it sticks.
3.4. Our attention is being chopped into shorter intervals and that’s not good for thinking deep thoughts or contemplating — which is what good books require.

4. The power of reading

4.1. Reading requires deeper thinking, contemplation, and it brings us more in touch with the realm or our inner life.
4.2. Books open a new world for us, sometimes almost transforming us to a different life.
4.3. This magical power of books help us experience other landscapes or lives than what we currently know of.
4.4. We have a short life and books are a gateway to seeing many more lives in one. They’re like life passports.
4.5. They’re also a way to be completely in the moment which is where all our living happens — in the present moment.

5. Filtering through the noise

5.1. To read books, we need a special kind of silence.
5.2. This silence means to immerse in the book, to contemplate, to think deeply.
5.3. Our ability to filter through the noise is becoming weaker because of the ‘over-networked’ society and ‘endless’ distractions.
5.4. Since every rumour becomes an ‘update’ and we’re wired to consume each ‘update’, we need to distance ourselves from our notifications to be able to filter through the noise.
5.5. Once we do, we know books are a way to reach the state of flow, and flow is happiness.

NOTE:

Even when you distance yourself and give yourself completely to the moment, to deep work, deep reading, deep meditation, or doing anything else with flow, you will still notice in some weird sense that there is something out there trying to claim your attention, even though it really has zero merit. That is the trouble and dilemma of our rewired brains.

6. To annotate or not to annotate

6.1. The author explains the concept of annotating and noting while reading.
6.2. He explains that making too many personal notes on the top of the writer’s thoughts may eventually obscure the latter.
6.3. It is better to use shorthand symbols or highlights without disturbing the state of flow while reading.

7. On re-reading

7.1. Reading has more velocity, re-reading has more depth.
7.2. Reading shuts the world to focus on the text, and re-reading includes the world to make a new sense the text.
7.3. The most remarkable thing is: re-reading contains reading. It including a memory of the reading.

8. The illusion of intimacy

8.1. In the name of connectivity, technology distances us from each other ever more. It distances us even more from our own selves.
8.2. The constant impulse to post updates or consume them offers an illusion of intimacy by sharing the most mundane details of our existence (Example: “I think I’ll reheat the stir-fly for lunch today”).
8.3. Most of these don’t reveal anything of substance or our inner self.

9. Reading vs the internet

9.1. The internet short circuits our concentration in favour of emotional hit-and-run.
9.2. When we come across links, our prefrontal cortex has to evaluate (each time) to click or not. This, processed over in loops again and again every day, impedes overall focus, retention, and memory.
9.3. Reading requires what is completely opposite: deep, long term focused attention that leads us to the state of flow.
9.4. This is how the two differ and this why the increased use of internet has led to humans losing the art of reading. Losing it more each day.

10. Reading print books vs e-books

10.1. The author explains how ebooks take the charm out of reading.
10.2. Ebooks miss the feeling of the sharp black letters laid out like lacquered chopsticks on a clean tablecloth’.
10.3. Ebooks don’t give the joy of ‘lending’ a book to a friend.
10.4. A paper book aids concentration by offering nothing else to do but read it.
10.5. Hyperlinks and other electronic innovations break the flow of language, interrupting the immersion in the word.
10.6. E-reading also fuels our building addiction to digital and tech.

I love how the author combines a philosophical sense of our lives with some great actionable advice about reading.

I really enjoyed reading this book in the library without phones and notifications.

Sadly, I also happened to be the only one in the library, probably because other things in Bangkok are more appealing to people, but it also proves a lot of the author’s points about the lost art of reading.

Now, If this post has left you wondering what to do instead of just fuel-ing your addiction or practicing distractions daily (and I know you need a way to fill the void), Here’s a simple 5-point guide you never should’ve needed:

1. Avoid internet distractions unless of absolutely deep value.
2. Connect with your loved ones (Outside social media).
3. Nurture your health and stay close to nature.
4. Avoid commerce in the modern form more than what’s essential.
5. Drink tea, eat green vegetables, find silence, and give back.

And yes, it is as simple as it sounds.

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This post is a part of my ‘Life Academy’ series.