24 February 2015
A very wise man once said, ‘Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.’
That wise man was Albert Einstein, so there is the credibility for what follows right there.
Einstein’s quote explains a lot about university life, the process of studying and the daunting mound of information that current day technologies give us unfettered access to.
There is no doubt that many students fall into the trap of reading too much (it is not my place to look at the other end of that particular spectrum, that is between you and your final grade). And this, as Einstein concludes, leads us to using our brains too little. Why else, for example, would people who can patently read (there are university entry requirements after all) ignore the many, clearly visible no cycling signs around the campus? Hey, even if you can’t read they put a handy diagram on the sign for you. This is surely a modern affliction caused by too much academic reading, leading to the ‘lazy habits of thinking’ prophesised by the great scientist. He really knew his stuff, didn’t he? The lazy habit of thinking in this case is that it doesn’t matter if you run into someone who is on foot, as with your greater momentum (p=mv, for all you physicists out there), cycle helmet and inflated sense of righteousness because you are saving the planet through cycling, the subsequent collision will work out OK for you.
Sympathy is of course due to our over-reading, lazy thinking cyclists. They are doing their best after all to keep up with the demands of reading lecture slides, industry journals, text books, case studies, each other’s work (only kidding!), academic papers, websites, tweets, Facebook updates, their email, the microwave instructions on a Rustlers burger, the occasional magazine and all those text messages (sometimes even while cycling). Is it any wonder there is no room to take in signs as well?
Sympathy will also be required if one of them runs into me. My momentum will be inflated by my considerable mass (m), even if my velocity (v) is lower than theirs. The resulting coming together will prove one of Einstein’s lesser known theories. In his Big Unit Trajectory Theory (BUTT) Einstein proved that any collision with the big unit (BU) would result in a downward trajectory for the colliding object (CO). This became known as landing on your BUTT.
Excess reading has other side effects of course. It can cause myopia, or near-sightedness. Then because you are so vain and don’t want to ruin your good looks you go for contact lenses instead of glasses. You could then contract lazy eye, conjunctivitis, corneal abrasion and keratoconus! Ask the ophthalmic students, they will tell you it’s all true. To be honest I can think of more pleasurable ways to harm my eyesight.
Ok maybe I am being a bit hard on reading here. It is a fact of study life though that reading does become a bit less of a pleasure and a bit more of a skill to be mastered so you can manage your time and sanity effectively. For me there are a few things to ‘get good at’. Firstly make sure you are reading what you need to. Sounds obvious but when you have to read so much picking the right papers, authors and topics to research is an essential skill. Always ask yourself ‘why am I reading this?’
Then you have to master the ability to scan read – are there key words, phrases or references in the piece that will help my work?
Another thing that works for me is mixing up the type of reading. For every dry academic paper (and there a lot of those in marketing let me tell you) I try to search out a blog or article from an engaging writer or commentator. Variety being the spice of life and all that.
And if all of that fails I have one final thought for you, not my own of course, what good would that do in a piece about reading? I am trying to show you how well-read I am after all. No, this reading rule is from P J O’Rourke, ‘Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of reading it.’ You can’t argue with that.