Why I Read Books; Or, How I Kicked the Hyperlink Monkey Off My Back

It wasn’t long ago, I became disturbed by my online reading habits: I was skimming through text, plucking out keywords, and not really digesting any of the information I had just looked at. Sentences longer than five words agitated me, and paragraphs were a nuisance. Understanding the context of an entire article–forget it.

But I began to wonder if I was missing something in the text. I went back to some of the skimmed articles, and I forced myself to slow down while reading. Sure enough, I was misunderstanding articles because the keywords I had plucked out were incorrectly associated with what I believed that article was about. I had been wrong in my assumptions.

And that’s what might be the problem with the newer ‘hyperlink’ style of reading. While it makes sense in a computer, internet-linked, browser experience–being able to quickly jump from paragraph to paragraph, web page to web page, site to site–, it begs the question, “When does this information become useless to humans?”

I think information becomes useless when we no longer digest it, or we fail to understand how that information applies in context. Sure, I can jump from hyperlink to hyperlink and quickly scan for new information, but I may have forgotten what I read on a previous web page. If I repeat this process, the next link may cause me to forget what I’m reading now. Then, what’s the point?

Worse, what if the subject takes several read-throughs–and practice–to really understand the presented information. The subject of Physics comes to mind. I could scan for key words on Ohms Law and regurgitate some factoids back to you, but the chances are that I really wouldn’t understand how to apply V=IR on a multi-layered printed circuit board (PCB). Only quoting Wikipedia could get me fired while working as an electronics design engineer.

So, I went onto some video gaming forums, and I read replies to various posts about several games. (I’m being rather vague, but go to any gamer forum and you will find a slew of examples). I lost count of the number of posted responses that misunderstood the original poster’s message; zerOCoOl’s defensive diatribe about how awesome Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing really plays seemed inappropriate or didn’t make sense in context of xThorHammerx’s original post: Despite it’s initial crappy presentation, maybe we should all give Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing a second chance.

I think social media only exacerbates the hyperlink problem. Online apps, like Twitter, might cause readers to eventually expect messages to be no longer than a few words and be disconnected from any real context of meaning. Does everyone who ‘Likes’ something I post really read what I have posted? I wonder.

Now, I’m playing devil’s advocate because I use all of these digital goodies–video games and social media. But they were creating bad reading habits for myself, and so I began enjoying books (plus, I write), again. Books forced me to slow down and appreciate what an author had written: Flannery O’Connor wrote well-crafted, hard-hitting themes, and Robert Frost’s verse evoked awe; but I had to slow down and digest these works in context. Turns out, there are some amazing non-fiction and fiction titles out there in a great big library we call Earth; you can easily find a book in paper format or digital, at just about anywhere.

Regardless of how you obtain your book, hyperlink junkies–like myself–may want to slow down and take the time to enjoy what we are reading. Mix up your days with a book and reflect on it’s contents. For you readers out there who still wear that hyperlink monkey: SLOW, READING, BOOK.

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