Sensitivity versus throughput in reading

Ice and sky, Ottawa

At some point in the past five or six years, skimming became my default form of reading. Depending on the material, as little as a few seconds per page might be devoted to initial assessment. While this does allow for a person to process much more information, there is an extent to which it forces the atrophy of close reading ability. It seems as though the skills for processing an 80 page document in and hour and the skills for engaging with a dense poem are not only different, but may actually exclude one another.

There is no question about which of the two skill-sets is most useful in academia or information-focused work environments. At the same time, it is always somewhat tragic to lose a skill – especially when it is easy to recall a time when densely packed writing was often an intriguing mystery to explore, rather than a nuisance to be untangled.

Do other people feel the same way about the relationship between the volume processing of information and the precise examination of small samples? If so, is there anything that can or should be done?

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

3 thoughts on “Sensitivity versus throughput in reading”

  1. Funny you write about this, I was thinking the exact same thing last night as I read a novel (a luxury these days). I’ve noticed that the past few books I’ve read, once I’ve developed an understanding of the character(s) and conflict, I skim through the rest of the book like I would my textbooks. I believe part of it is the sense of urgency I feel with my spare time as it’s difficult to set aside time to read for pleasure, yet the other part comes from an unfortunate formed habit.

  2. Jenn,

    I find myself feeling similarly. Once I have passed the likely apex of a novel, I feel like I am just winding down a long-running project. I read aggressively, but often without much enjoyment.

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