Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How I Read

being an attempt to narrate a pseudo-random set of texts

When I have myself settled in the morning, I try to read through things in order of their priority, starting with emails and working down to RSS feeds at certain tech sites. This morning, I amazingly only have two emails and they're both advertisements (one from Chronicle of Higher Education and one from Last.fm—a nice representation of my tastes) which can be quickly archived. I then check Facebook, which almost never has anything interesting anymore, before checking Twitter. A tweet from @webianproject, whom I just started following yesterday, leads to a ConcievablyTech article on their project which I open in a new tab. I scan through my RockMelt edge apps for more articles and open one Mashable overview.
Generally, my approach is to scan through titles using feed services, opening up intriguing ones in new tabs. Then, since I usually have an overwhelming number of tabs open, I scan through the links and filter them into different categories. Longer articles which do not rely on embedded media (video and images) I drop into InstaPaper using a bookmarklet. Short articles I read immediately. Moderate length articles that do not rely on embedded media I convert into a legible form using Readability's legacy bookmarklet. The only articles I read in their original form are A) ones that are readable in the first place, which is a rarity since the web is mostly tiny fonts and distracting sidebars, and B) ones that rely on media. A good example is this David Calhoun post on Safari improvements in iOS 5; the short videos and table about Javascript would be mangled by InstaPaper. Sometimes I use RockMelt's built-in “Read Later” function to save media-rich articles.
Before I head to the bus stop, I sync my iPod Touch's InstaPaper app. On the bus, I listen to Glasser's Ring and continue reading through a First Monday article about open source software community SourceForge using InstaPaper. I get maybe five minutes of reading done as I'm a little tired and in the mood to space out to Glasser. When I arrive at the library, I check email and Twitter on my iPod using the library's wireless, reading a short piece of tech news. The first thing I do once I'm behind the reference desk is answer an email, which I read carefully and reply to. It's a simple question in a short email, but I find that you have to read reference queries very thoroughly in order to divine what the user actually wants. Reference work itself breeds an interesting type of reading based on rapid navigation. We often hear the modern age characterized (with an implicit and rather unjustifiable negativity, if you ask me) by such scanning instead of in-depth reading, which is immensely useful for circumventing both the Scylla of too many resources and the Charybdis of imperfect discovery tools.
At the reference desk, I have ample time between questions to do other things. I use this time to converse with colleagues, get out from behind the desk when possible, and do some design work on a website and some flowcharts..There are certainly things I could be reading but I choose to limit myself to work-related emails, granting myself a short reprieve from the mental assimilation of information.
After work, I read through my Twitter again, saving a couple interesting links to InstaPaper. One of them, unfortunately, cannot download into the app for some reason, so I have to view it in the browser on a mobile-unfriendly site. Then I run into some librarian friends and read a paper handout they've used to survey students, the first printed word I've read all day. I walk back to my apartment, which gives me the time to finish the SourceForge article. Academic articles are interesting in terms of reading style. Depending on what you want out of the article, your approach can and should vary. For instance, if you plan to do a similar study, you will pay closest attention to the methodology. If you're synthesizing innumerable articles for a literature review, you may only skim the abstract and conclusion. If you want to learn something that improves praxis, then the discussion and conclusion are most important. I read the SourceForge article pretty carefully all the way through because I was suspicious of some methodological shortcomings, but the authors admitted those same deficiencies in the conclusion so I actually could have skimmed more.


skip here for the short version

Modern technology provides an opportunity to fill the day's interstitial moments with reading. Far from discouraging reading, we can leverage excellent services ilke InstaPaper to have access to different forms of information through different interfaces at all times of the day. Technology is not deterministic: each individual can adopt a unique approach to the tools available, whether that involves exclusive use of an iPad to read only Tweets and blog posts to exclusive use of printed texts for long-form reading. Yet my own reading is certainly quite distracted; the most long-form reading I get in most days is during bus rides. If texts are becoming more and more ubiquitous, it correspondingly takes a greater effort to focus in on a singular text.
And for the truly curious, here's a list of everything I read.

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