Scanning=fast food for the brain

There’s a time and a place for fast food, at least in my family. The afternoons when church went long and I’m leading a rehearsal in forty-five minutes.  Picking up Dairy Queen means we have a few minutes to enjoy a meal as a family. But if you saw me IRL, you’d know I apply fast food logic far too often.

Anyway. That is not the point of this post.  Scanning articles online for quick info on our given problem or interest has its place.  When I wanted to know how seriously to take the weird spots on my son’s hand, I skimmed an article with nastily juicy pictures to help make a quick decision.  Reading the bold lines reminded me of an over-the-counter treatment I’m already familiar with, which I’ll try before taking him to a dermatologist.

But the lure of scanning can be a little addictive, just like fast food decidedly is.  Thirty seconds of scrolling and I walk away with a (probably inflated) sense of increased understanding about my world.  The addictive part is the high “reward” for low investment. And it has spoiled us somewhat for the slow-cooked, generations-old forms of reading that take time to read and longer to digest.

For example, I got to thinking on this topic after reading David Brooks’ introduction to The Best American Essays, 2012. Super random, I know.  I usually skip introductions because they can contain spoilers without announcing them.  But I thought it may be hard to spoil a collection of essays, so I gave it a shot.

He argues in his little essay-to-introduce-essays that,

“the job of an essayist is to seem like a friend.”  

David Brooks

Reading a full, well-written article could be a chance to listen to a wise, probably old, friend.  But many of us would glance over an article without any bold headlines and label it as TLDR. (Bolding this sentence is very meta, isn’t it?) 

We long for a guru-like Yoda figure in our lives to guide us. But we’re not willing to listen to his pace of speech.  

Brooks also points out that we best remember and process the things that come along with enjoyment.  A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down and whatnot. Could it be that our distaste for reading stems from too many experiences with ill-suited or downright boring assignments in school?  

Two facts:

  • I was assigned Great Expectations in high school.  
  • I understood nothing and only enjoyed the spectacle of carrying around such a thick book.

More facts:

  • I re-read Great Expectations in my late twenties
  • I loved it and followed it by reading 5-6 more Dickens novels
  • I still feel a little overly proud about reading thick books like this

Brooks quotes somebody named Bagehot, whoever that is.

“As far as communicating and establishing your creed are concerned – try a little pleasure.”  

Watler Bagehot (thank you Wikipedia)

The Foodie revolution has brought into style the appreciation of great cooking and new culinary experiences.  I think we need a Readie revolution, or something more catchy, to revel in the glories of great writing. Actually there are plenty of people engaging in such revelry, but it’s not yet quite as hipster as being a Foodie.  So, dear Hipsters, please make reading (full-length, well-written articles) cool again.

For the rest of us, who aim to be a little hipster without seeming like we’re trying:

  • start a ten-minute timer
  • read something by David Brooks or someone he recommends
  • commence thinking about what was said for a while

Ya might walk away feeling like Luke Skywalker.

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