A bit ago Kerim talked about ‘reading fast’ and ‘reading slow’ (something I’ve called ‘pace layering‘ in the past). It was a post a lot of people found useful, although I have to admit I feel there is something not quite kosher about calling reading ‘devouring’ — somehow it makes it sound like ‘reading’ is an unusual way of feeding your mind, rather than the normal way we go about things (graduate students: guess how interested hiring committees are in your ability to demonstrate that you’ve bookmarked a lot of articles?). There was one thing that our two discussions has left out, however: thinking.
Thinking is one of the most important parts of the research process, second only to reading. (You must read. Read. Read. An article. A day. Read.) And yet I’m struck by the way that smart phones inhibit thinking by keeping us busy. When you are waiting for the bus checking Twitter, you are not only giving up the opportunity to read an article, you are giving up the opportunity for thought.
Thinking isn’t hard, at least not for me: most of my thinking occurs during my free time (walking is a fave) and just involves sitting there either silently ranting to myself (“We’ve given up thinking! Hey wait, I bet I could spin that out into a blog entry…”) or just sort of sitting there letting thoughts roll absently about in your head (“uh… interpellation…. hmm…”). Like sleep, the other major time your brain sorts itself out, moments of downtime spend stupidly pondering the universe can be remarkably productive because they allow your mind to shake the leaf bag that is your brain down until all your thoughts are nice and tightly nestled together.
Of course, thinking is second to reading because most thinking actually is the act of reading, which involves actively if silently responding to the author. But failing that, I really believe opening a beer, watching the sun set and going “uh… interpellation…” is a valid and important part of the academic process. So the next time you feel the urge to trawl the Internet for more things you’ll never read, take a second instead and turn off your smart phone and stare vacantly at the cars going by as you wait for your bus to come. Trust me — it’ll pay off in the long run.