Discernment, More Important Than Speed Reading

The Required Information From The “Ocean” Of Data

I was a child in the 90s. A book would be recommended to me at school. I would go to the library to look for it. Was it borrowed? I would either wait or search elsewhere, for example, at the county library. Some volumes can be borrowed at home, others for the lecture hall. Photocopying it was out of the question. If I couldn’t find it by looking for it in the library, I would ask among my acquaintances if anyone had it, if I could borrow it to read it or learn from it. To get and return the volume, I had to go out and meet with the benevolent person who did me a favor. Sometimes, the searching time was longer than the actual studying time.

2023. Many books in my current library are free from the internet, sometimes uploaded by their very authors. Scanned, OCR, top-quality versions are found on Scribd and can be downloaded within a few minutes. I don’t even have to leave my office and have the content in ultra-portable format.

Similar to the movies: did I want, as a child, to see a particular masterpiece without waiting for years until it was played on TV (maybe late at night)? I would search for rental videotapes (later DVDs). In present, many are available full on youtube or various sites without having to be downloaded. If I want to, I can download them in a few minutes because watching a movie usually lasts at least an hour. Has information become a worthless currency? It seems available anytime, anywhere, to anyone in any format: has potentiality killed opportunity (?). The seemingly endless availability of a piece of information (book, article, conference, audio book, interview, documentary, etc.) creates a psychological effect as opposed to the opportunity that invites disciplining the mind and calculating the choices (what resources do I invest, what results do I get?). Technology has provided POTENTIAL access to more information but has not prolonged our lives. Just because I can download 100 books in one hour, it doesn’t automatically add time to read them to my program. Without choice, all storage spaces (apartments, (mini) computers, one’s own memory, etc.) become crowded with lots and lots of data just because it seems we can: we have space for that as well, so why not?

Then, when we need a piece of information for an action/decision, we have to “swim” through an ocean of data, and it seems discouraging to “waste” time just to find exactly when we need it. But, on the other hand, the mirage of endless possibilities comes with the guarantee of the cost of the time wasted while muddling through unnecessary data, especially if it is not organized (in taxonomies or folksonomies).

Some want to learn to read fast, hoping that this will solve their time issue regarding their access to information from data stored in a seemingly infinite space.


The Discipline Of The Mind Organizes Information

Since I was little, I have gotten accustomed to lists: read/to-be-read books, seen/missed/seen movies, reports, etc. They provided order, direction, and prioritization. Making lists of interests implies that something I didn’t care about would likely not end up on my reading menu. For example, the history of painting. Ah, Constable, Van Gogh, Picasso! It’s nice and cult to know about art and culture … You feel less stupid than if you don’t know! Although there were books on painters and paintings in my library, they disappeared fast because every time I saw them, I remembered how uncultivated and guilty I felt because I still hadn’t read them. At one point, I admitted that I simply didn’t care about this topic.

If I’m interested in, let’s say, marketing, psychology, and wellbeing, then there are certain areas that, as beautiful and cultivated as they may be, I assume that I will never have enough time to be interested in them.

I was young and would buy the TV guide: I would only pick what I was interested in, and I wasn’t looking at anything else. In high school, I owned a video recorder, and I would only plan to record on VHS videotapes what I chose. I would watch the recordings when and how I chose, skipping the ads. I wouldn’t record more than I knew I had time to watch. When I didn’t have time to even watch the recordings, I preferred to just give up TV rather than overwhelm myself.

The first thing I learned at my first job (in 2001) was searching on Google using search formulas and identifying keywords. Later, I understood that if an idea can be expressed clearly, data on that idea can be found. So, if I have an idea (for example, find a remedy for a disease), it is enough to search using certain keywords, and I can find results in the right direction (if I know how to keep only the relevant ones). However, a problem that some people have is not only that they don’t know how to look; they don’t even know that they don’t know precisely what they need.

As a teenager, I got into the habit of subscribing and unsubscribing from groups or information providers. For example, although it seems hard to believe, I learned graphological analysis (the interpretation of personality traits employing handwriting) by subscribing to a weekly newsletter that presented a feature. Of course, to subscribe to such sources of information, it is assumed that you know that they exist and you can find the best (“top best of”… 202X).

When I want to find information about a new topic, I first seek to find the keywords to find exactly what I’m looking for (when I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for). Some ask “How did you manage to get this information?”. The sad reality behind those who ask it is the assumption that information is something that accidentally “falls from the sky” or is miraculously downloaded into your hard drive exactly when you need it. Well, you can read about 5,000 words per minute, but it won’t be useful if you read everything that “bumps into you”. In addition to speed reading, memorization, concentration, productivity, and modeling, in the effective learning field, it is also necessary to expose the virtues of discernment in “quick search and organization of information.”


Marcus Victor Grant

Text copyright © Marcus Victor Grant 2017-present. Translation by Cristiana Brezeanu of the article “Discernământul, mai important decât citirea rapidă “, which was previously published in Romanian on October 16th, 2021, on Discerne. Text copyright © Marcus Victor Grant, all rights reserved.

The materials published on this blog are covered and subject to this disclaimer.

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