Reading method

Information value stream

I am re-evaluating my method for reading and writing to improve research, assimilation and publication. I have been for the most part an information passenger; consuming passively on the hope of some future redemption. Now as I near 40, I am more aware of my personal and human limitations, and the amount of false, impractical, busy-ness that can pass for work or learning.

We are swamped with information.

Active assimilation

Reading actively aids memory recall; heavier mental lifting improves conceptual understanding 1. Reading for conceptual understanding requires slow and patient study. By reading on a (functionally limited) e-book reader as opposed to an iPad, I find slowness to be a virtue. Hand-writing happens at a speed which allows for gaps between words which the mind fills, the inefficiency causes the mind to actively summarise:

Across three experiments in 2013, researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer compared the effectiveness of students taking longhand notes versus typing onto laptops. Their conclusion: the relative slowness of writing by hand demands heavier “mental lifting"", forcing students to summarise rather than to quote verbatim – in turn tending to increase conceptual understanding, application and retention. 2

There is a human tendency to ascribe greater confidence on our memories, despite the evidence that little we read is committed to memory.

but for the most part, the assembled books, and the hundreds of others that I’ve read and discarded, given away, or returned to libraries, represent a vast catalogue of forgetting. For it is humanly certain that most of us remember very little of what we have read. To open almost any book a second time is to be reminded that we had forgotten well-nigh everything that the writer told us. Parting from the narrator and his narrative, we retain only a fading impression; and he, as it were, takes the book away from us and tucks it under his arm. How much of reading, then, is just a kind of narcissism — a marker of who you were and what you were thinking when you encountered a text? Perhaps thinking of that book later, a trace of whatever admixture moved you while reading it will spark out of the brain’s dark places. capricious It is in the postmortem where we learn how a book really works. 3

I try to annotate across digital media; books, web, even videos and podcasts - which I capture to a personal knowledge management tool.

To get the most out of each book we read it is vital to have a plan for recording, reflecting on, and putting into action the conclusions we draw from the information we consume. 4

Prior to the internet, book-reading was a common option for winding down before bed. My long form reading habits have certainly declined since those days. Sitting silently with an e-reader has improved reading times. Initially there is a strong psychological tug, the dopamine shadows cast by ritual news and the continuous whackamole of social notifications. But when that settles, if it is allowed to, the mind becomes adrift in space where big ideas live.

“From undergraduates to professors, people exhibit a strong tendency towards shallow, horizontal, ‘flicking’ behaviour in digital libraries. Power browsing and viewing appear to be the norm for all … Society is dumbing down.” 5

Citation management.

Pandoc has superb support for citations so all is left to me is to capture references to a bib desk index, and then copy all annotations to a corresponding keyed note in the PKM.

I use Bibtex for citations and citeproc.js via BIBJson to preprocess those into markdown.