10 hours ago by blueyes
A lot of the comments in this thread confirm that a) the Internet and social media are problems that distract us, and b) there are ways to fight the addictive behaviors they encourage. They can be made succinctly.
(I agree with both points, and admire those who attempt to regain control of their attention.)
This comment is about the tone of the post in The Paris Review. There's a kind of elegiac primitivism circulating among the cultural elite that rubs me wrong, both in Birkerts and the contemporary reviewer.
The constant evocation of "loss" associated with some intangible trauma seems like a cheap trick to hack our empathy. By cheap trick, I mean, "a trick that a lot of people use, which like Hollywood's emotional manipulations, is getting old."
One hallmark of this genre is that an essay that seems like it's about one thing ("reading in an age of distraction"), is really about the author's "I", a foray into autobiography. Another hallmark is that it says nothing new. It is completely safe, a piece of writing well within the received wisdom. Readers of The Paris Review would be hard pressed to object to any substantial point the writer made, except, maybe, that those points did not need making to that audience.
I hope that we get more people working on tools and methods that save us from the Internet, and fewer posts asking for our attention while they lament it.
8 hours ago by patcon
First off, thanks. I really appreciate your comment and the chance to reflect. Hoping my comment comes across as fair :)
> is really about the author's "I", a foray into autobiography
I do feel there's some irony here on this "anti-narrative" perspective being at the top, as it always is on HN. (No disrespect intended, as I empathize with what you're saying, blueyes.)
To explain: I feel with "distraction",we're all talking around patience, information and narrative. Novels and long-form storytelling are information (wisdom) buried in complex narrative. And these stories, in a way, are a microcosm of the world we live in. They are perhaps practice for grappling with and distilling meaning from the complex world. To revel in a fuzzy and meandering story is to revel in a sandboxed version of the same process by which the world delivers us most lessons.
And I would argue there is huge value in sharing information in narratives, because that data/knowledge is "warmed" by empathy and grounded in imagery of physical space and experience and other things that lodge in our minds (moreso in some than others, true) in some very human ways.
But we all here (and I include myself) cannot seem to focus on even this article's grounding personal narrative, because we want the succinct information, the quick fix, the distilled solution... like addicts who've abdicated responsibility for parsing that same wisdom and personal revelation from the complex and ambiguous narrative itself.
I'm personally trying lately NOT to believe any set of universal fixes can possibly be prescribed, and that there are instead a million appropriate fixes that will take shape in the minds of each reader. That feels like a step toward the complexity that is more like the real world I live in.
I found myself reading the whole comment, adding "to me" to each line. And I can't disagree with it in that reading.
> I hope that we get more people working on tools and methods that save us from the Internet, and fewer posts asking for our attention while they lament it.
The general (ish) perspective of the larger comment (and proposed cure) feels very symptomatic of the disease to me <3
5 hours ago by coldtea
>This comment is about the tone of the post in The Paris Review. There's a kind of elegiac primitivism circulating among the cultural elite that rubs me wrong, both in Birkerts and the contemporary reviewer.
Funny! It's the exact opposite that rubs me wrong, and I see it all the time from both fellow nerds, pundits, and so on...
It's like many people believe all of history is either a blob with no ups and downs - it just is what it is forever -, or a straight arrow to even better things.
It's like loss, nostalgia, or even the hint that some things could have been better is if not forbidden strongly discouraged... - lest one be considered insufficiently modern, which appears to be one of the big crimes today...
16 hours ago by kuu
For me it's been a struggle to read for the last couple of years. It's something that I used to do when I commuted by train to my old office, I read like a book per month. But after I changed to new place where I have to go by car, that's gone and now even more when I work from home.
I just cannot find the right time or the proper situation for reading, and there are much simpler distractions such as Netflix, social networks or the videogames...
15 hours ago by doublejay1999
I've been worrying about this for a while.
I think there are 2 things at play; the first is a gradual wearing of our attention span in a world where we can scroll through the whole worlds news and everyone's opinion on it, in the time it takes to defecate. A continuous flow of intellectual snacks - some healthy, some junk - is habit forming. Without judgement whether it's a good or a bad thing, it's certainly a thing.
The second (which I think is exacerbated by the first) is plain old cognitive friction : it requires more brain energy to invest in book. A full page of small font text, vocabulary stretching language, vivid images created by words, high concept theories, different plot elements to assemble; all of these represent a much high load on the cranial CPU - and that's not to say we can't do it, but that we are subconsciously reluctant to make the effort.
In the same way that if your loaded gym bag is waiting at the end of the bed, you're much more likely to get to the gym than if you have to hunt through the laundry, search for your membership card, find your car keys etc etc.
I think this is covered by Dan Kahneman in Thinking Fast & Slow, but i could be mistaken.
Anyway, it's a thing.
12 hours ago by Freak_NL
In bed before going to sleep.
No distractions, comfortable position (obviously you would need some pillows), and it helps wind down your brain. In the weekend you can also pick up the book again in the morning if you wish. The benefit: you sleep there every day, so you can read a bit every day.
I don't use a smartphone, so no computer in bed means no incoming messages or time-sinks available at the touch of a button; I would recommend leaving the smartphone in another room or having a set routine of placing it in some kind of zero disturbance (or call only) night setting. Whatever works to stop you from grabbing it for some more mindless scrolling in bed. The time you use for reading must come from somewhere, so cut down on the low-value entertainment (this may be hard, I don't know).
Going to bed is something to look forward to when your book is there waiting for you once it is part of your routine. A good book beats starting another episode on Netflix once you've found the genres or writers that work for you.
11 hours ago by ed312
I do this, and its great, but I don't think this is an ideal space to read non-fiction. I absolutely tear through fiction series on my Kindle but I'm not sure retention is great for non-fiction, educational, or technical topics. The only "solution" I've found is to block off a couple hours on quiet weekend days.
11 hours ago by phrotoma
Same. Fiction helps me wind down at the end of the day. Nonfiction gets my mind whirring with ideas and is not helpful at bed time.
11 hours ago by fantod
I was basically forced to do this as my insomnia got so bad during the pandemic. Now I read before bed and problem solved!
12 hours ago by cehrlich
I struggled with this for a long time, and I have now found a solution that works sometimes (ie as long as I don't sabotage myself):
I bought an alarm clock. Basic $10 Casio thing, but anything else is also fine as long as it's "dumb". After a certain time in the evening, and in the morning before I eat breakfast, nothing with an internet connection is allowed in my bedroom. That's my reading time.
It's actually more difficult for me as my bedroom is also my office, so I need to unplug my laptop and put it in the living room overnight, but someone living in a bigger house/apartment than me would not have that particular issue.
8 hours ago by npsimons
I'm in a similar situation. Unless it's something I can work through (with examples or problems) or something I care about (very ephemeral), it's hard to carve out the focus or time for it.
I tried starting "Emperor's New Mind" by Penrose a month or so back. I don't think I made it past chapter one. Currently I'm binging Stephenson's "Anathem" (I fucking love this book), and feel a little bit of excitement at digging into the sources, but I'm afraid it will end up like most bibliographies I scour - well-intentioned lists I hardly ever make any progress on.
Despite my avoidance of FB, IG, etc, I still find myself spending an inordinate amount of time on Reddit or even HN. But the occasional hit of something truly useful (the Cesium for UE4 post was intriguing to me, as a project at work a few years back was attempting something similar on a smaller scale), but the constant low-level dopamine from neophilia keeps me constantly scrolling, but ultimately listless and depressed at the end of the day.
Oftimes I wonder if it wouldn't be better to make my own pinprick math, but I'm just too addicted to the Reticulum.
7 hours ago by morty_s
I’ve developed a reading habit over the past 18 months or so. I’m always reading. Books, I enjoy reading books. Books are less distracting. I read with a pencil and annotate notes, comments, and questions in the margins (to keep me “in the pipe”).
Prior to the last couple years I’d read for pleasure, sure. I’d also read things I had to (work, school, etc). Lately I’ve been reading like I’m optimizing for throughput—to read everything I can, to cover as much ground as possible.
I also read to my daughter (still in the womb hahah). I read her children’s books (many of them stem based). I also read books on algorithms, computing, & mathematics to her.
I prioritize reading. I wake up hours before work (not as bad as it sounds given the late start engineering culture) and read. Much of what I’m reading now are texts that one must “work through” so I read and work through books. This is all rather new to me too. I’ve never read this much this quickly.
This habit started humbly, but now the train has left the station...
14 hours ago by smurda
I read a lot more blog posts than books these days, and I wonder if I’m just eating more empty calories instead of nutritious meals.
I’m all for the promise of the Internet of giving a voice to the voiceless. But the time and quality of thought required to put words into print was a higher bar, and ostensibly higher quality on average, than the time and quality of thought I put into writing a quick blog post or vapid tweet.
13 hours ago by sriku
Rgd empty calories, most likely yes. So it is good to have a skill to skim a blog post first to determine if it is worth reading. Writer's reputation also helps.
Terence Tao's hierarchy helped me here - book > paper > blog post > buzz note > tweet. He once wrote somewhere that he chose his medium depending on how developed the thought he wished to express was (or something to that effect).
(Remember "Gooogle Buzz"?)
11 hours ago by ed312
This is how a phd friend of mine answered "how do you actually read so many research papers". He developed a really tuned skimming mode - I'm not sure I could apply the same technique to blogs/website due to less consistent format, writing style, etc.
12 hours ago by roudaki
A lot of books are empty calories and even good ones can became if you dont internalize it. I reread books over time and every time I get something different out of it but if I force to read something just to cross it of the list I usually forget I read it in couple months
8 hours ago by npsimons
> But the time and quality of thought required to put words into print was a higher bar, and ostensibly higher quality on average, than the time and quality of thought I put into writing a quick blog post or vapid tweet.
Very much so. It took me a long time to figure out why I could never get into podcasts, and even interviews or talks by authors I respect are boring to me. Writing books takes a lot of work, and they are almost always better organized and more coherent than other forms of information (such as forum comments . . . ). You get more "intellectual nourishment" from books, especially good books.
9 hours ago by watwut
> I’m all for the promise of the Internet of giving a voice to the voiceless. But the time and quality of thought required to put words into print was a higher bar, and ostensibly higher quality on average, than the time and quality of thought I put into writing a quick blog post or vapid tweet.
I used to read a lot when I was younger. A lot of it was junk. I enjoyed it, I would not mind if my kids read it, but really, it did not had more quality in it then random blog.
19 hours ago by messo
I needed to read this.
“They want plot and character, sure, but what they really want is a vehicle that will bear them off to the reading state.” This state is threatened by the ever-sprawling internet—can the book’s promise of deeper presence entice us away from the instant gratification of likes and shares?”
18 hours ago by flakiness
Once I switched my main reading device from laptop/phone to a dedicated e-ink tablet, (in my case BOOX Note3, but I guess Kindles are fine too) things have gotten better. Reading through books is still tough (as a non-native English speaker) but reading long blogs becomes fun again.
For books, audio books are good compromise. Not as deeply engaged, but at least you can finish books while you're cooking/running/driving.
14 hours ago by tluyben2
Yes, same thing (and also Boox Note3). If you take a device and switch off the wifi/gsm on it so you cannot get anything from outside, it really helps me focus for reading time. Even a little bit too much (I tend to finish a book in one go, no matter what else happens in the world around me); I often don't notice that hours pass by and people tried to reach me.
> as a non-native English speaker
There are books in your own language right? I do everything in English (as non-native English speaker as well) now, so read English at the same speed as my native language (Dutch), but I do read books in Dutch (and other languages) as well.
11 hours ago by garbagetime
For reading, my primary device isn't an e-ink tablet, or even an audio-player. It's the book.
10 hours ago by slothtrop
How does the BOOX compare to a Remarkable?
8 hours ago by MattKimber
At the start of this year I started an experiment; whenever an application distracted me more than once per day with a push notification or toast, it would have its permissions to send any notification of any type revoked. Even if it was a work-related app, probably the scariest category of things to turn off.
A surprise for me was that once the biggest offenders were turned off, my brain craved the low-reward distraction fix - I would find myself compulsively refreshing Twitter or a forum in the hope of getting that same brief, low-value, "here is something you need to look at" reward. But it didn't come, and while I lost close to a month of leisure time on compulsive-refreshing I found that "there is no reward here" eventually filtered through to my subconscious.
The other shock was how little people at work noticed the difference between "I have a notification, let me respond to that" and "I'm at a nice break, let me check my messages". I thought median response time going from a few seconds to a few minutes would be problematic but nobody even notices. (Perhaps they're also too distracted?) Of course there is the worst case that I get head down in something and then I'm 2-3 hours out before I can get back, but it helps we have a team where we can be quite open with the idea of, "I quit Slack if I need focus time, here are emergency ways to contact me if necessary"
I am not yet back to reading books. I hope that will come in time. But I definitely find myself better at engaging with long-form entertainment, without stopping and getting distracted within the first few minutes.
6 hours ago by whitehouse3
Hacks like this sound promising. Especially at T+30 days. But I wonder how well it will work across longer spans of time. Say at T+24 months?
My experience is that these habits work until "the pillars" of my life (people, place, and routine) shift. I had low screen-time before COVID: but not after. Buying a new house had similar affect. A new friend or social media app (looking at you Clubhouse) interrupts my flow and I fall back into the scroll-hole once again.
Every few months I need to re-learn how to fight against the PC in my pocket. I always find a way. But never get the sense that I've "leveled-up".
10 hours ago by dav_Oz
In one of Plato's Dialogues "The Phaedrus" Socrates argues about writing as following (@ section 274c by invoking the Egyptian Myth of the God Theuth inventing "letters"): "[275a ...] For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir, not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise. [...]"
"[275d ...] Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. [...]"
"[276a ...] the living and breathing word of him who knows, of which the written word may justly be called the image"
This self-reflected, self-conscious "inferiority" to the very living, breathing, vanishing "speech" - the written letter being at best a very poor at its worst a misrepesentative image - gives "birth", I would argue, to (modern western) literature, as we know it.
Philip K. Dick is a literal example of a relentless chase in writing a Exegesis ("a religious/contemplative practice of pointing beyond the text") until his writing drive is completely void of any "letters" to be written. A hell of a ride.
In a way looking back at "books" kind of is just the echo within the echo of the speech dying away in the moment being "spoken".
So trying to find something in books which is "missing" in our "Age of Constant Distraction" is the very same gesture, albeit - in my reading - literary trapped in a ancient rhetoric figure: “Today's youth is rotten to the core, it is evil, godless, and lazy. It will never be what youth used to be, and it will never be able to preserve our culture."
Daily digest email
Get a daily email with the the top stories from Hacker News. No spam, unsubscribe at any time.