I have a problem. I can’t control it.
Behind the chair in my house - my chair, that is - there is a stack of books and magazines all with one unifying descriptor. They all have a page marker somewhere around the first 30 to 45 pages.
For years, I’ve struggled with reading too many things at once. I have books on my shelves that I bought years ago only to leave in the dust after I discovered that the library finally had that _________ novel series that I was hoping to read. The result is that I’m always dipping into different streams, different waters, and then dipping out again. I may come back to that book within the week, or the month, or perhaps in three months which means I’ll have lost the thread of that book by the time I come back.
It just. Keeps. Happening.
When we talk about reading not only as something we do with books, articles, blogs, etc. but also as something we do with the experiences and interactions of our lives, we have to respect a battle that we will inevitably fight:
Quantity versus quality.
We are bombarded by information, signals, words and images that beg for us to read them - to make sense of them - to do something with them. They refuse to relent - coming from the sidebars of our social media pages or the commercial outreach of major market television - and often we process them automatically and without choice.
The problem is that we can’t read everything well.
The argument for multi-tasking is that we have so many things we need to do, and so little time. Science is now saying that we can’t actually multi-task, but instead what we do is switch between one activity - one stimulus, one project, one line of thought - and another. The result is that we do several things, but we do it with a muted amount of quality.
Quantity versus quality.
Reading the texts that matter, the wisdom and goodness of God, while reading the texts of our lives, means that we have to take a serious look at the quality of our reading in light of the quantity of our reading. There are key questions we desperately need to ask to help read well.
First, how much are we taking in at once?
In a typical day, how much time do we spend taking in visual media - social, video entertainment, video news, or podcasts?
What percentage of our day is spent “taking in” and what percentage is spent “reflecting on”? The best move to make to increase quality is to give time not only to taking in and reading the texts and signals around us but also to reflect on what we’re hearing.
It may mean we also need to set aside time to disconnect from books, media, and signals. Silence and solitude without any stimulus helps us to think about what’s floating around in our brain.
Second, what are we taking in?
What do we notice about the material & symbols we’re reading? Are they revolving around the same idea? Do they only serve to support what we already believe, or do they challenge us?
Does the material we choose to read serve to engage us in the world rather than distract us from the world in which we live?
If we spend a moment thinking about the content of what we’re reading, we’ll start to discover the place where we might be taking in a ton of quantity but we’re starving for quality. The more loving, wise, and thoughtful our content is - the more diverse, energetic, and peace-seeking material we chase after - the higher the quality level.
Third, what must be executed in order for us to read well?
Quality is a matter of exclusion. This isn’t true of everything - if you have multiple children, excluding one of them doesn’t make your family better - but when it comes to the “texts” we’re taking in we have to begin to edit, cut, and restrict what gets our “eye time” and “brain time.”
What content is funneling into your life these days that as you read it you realize it doesn’t fit into healthy and beautiful qualities like those we named in the second question?
What content reinforces your hatred or dislike of another group of people or another worldview?
Consider either editing this content out or balancing it with a perspective from another side.
One experiment that may also help is cutting the cord on cable. My wife and I made this move several years ago and other than a few seasons where we really wanted those channels (cough - college football - cough) we have found the limited stream of content through Netflix to be healthy and helpful.
So as you read your life, your world - search out quality and not quantity. Spend time reading but also reflecting. Remember that quality comes from a diversity of voices.