Last week, I embarked on a 7 day reading deprivation. There were 3 (3 1/2?) of us who did it as part of the week 4 exercise to the Artist’s Way. Jenny took to calling it media fasting because it encompassed more than just reading. Well, for her at least. The goal is akin to a silent meditation retreat. For those of you who are sane enough to not have done either, the theory is that “words are like tiny tranquilizers.” Deprivation intends to cast us into our inner silence, without the easy distraction of reading your inner voice becomes more noticeable.
And let me say, my inner voice was angry all last week. We all had different approaches and restrictions. I stayed away from Facebook – it was tough to resist as my routine is usually to check it in the morning, then again mid-morning, then pre-lunch, after lunch, mid afternoon, etc. Email was trickier. For my personal email, I put on an auto-response informing friends that I was “email dieting.” The general rule was, I would scan for emails that were relevant to what I had to get done that day, and everything else I filed to read once I broke the fast. If someone wanted to get in touch with me, they had to do so via phone or text – or they’d wait til the next week. Overall, it worked out well, I only missed one friend’s request to catch up over dinner (sorry DB!) which I didn’t read until this Tuesday when my reading cleanse ended.
When I wasn’t angry, frustrated, aggravated or feeling down about my wordless existence, I would amuse myself by glancing longingly at my Blackberry as the new message count would grow higher. I would lay in bed staring at my bookshelf at all the books I could be reading now if I didn’t have to do this stupid exercise. I had imaginary conversations with my books. I thought of, but refrained from, hugging my books in my sleep. That’s how much I missed reading.
What I did realize during the deprivation is how often I gravitate towards email, web sites, Facebook, blogs (books much less so) to fill up a small gap in time – waiting for the bus, waiting at the traffic light to turn green, waiting for my dad to finish his sentence. And for the larger gaps in time, I realized that I tended to use it as a distraction/procrastination tool. I thought it’d increase my productivity in writing but it had the opposite effect. I did design and draw more though. Perhaps that was the next closest passive activity I could do as procrastination from writing.
Tuesday night we caught up to collectively moan about our absence from literature. Our group broke up when Eleanor announced, “Well, I have to go home and get some sleep so I can wake up and read tomorrow morning.”
On the eve before the fast, I stuffed myself on blogs – I essentially caught up on my Google Reader and easily breezed through 40+ posts. I started to notice that a lot of what I was reading wasn’t terribly thought provoking and just more noise. The day reading deprivation ended (Wednesday morning), I binged out on reading. I first caught up with emails, shot off replies to messages. Then came the magical moment when I reunited with my Googler Reader.
Roughly 110 posts had been generated in one week’s time. Plus, another 10 or so articles that family/friends emailed me directly. I caught up by the end of the day. Here’s a quantitative summary of what I read:
Number of posts: 110
Number of blogs: 26
Number of posts shared: 5
Number of posts emailed: 3-5 (I forget)
Number bookmarked to highlight in my weekly reader: 6
Here’s the list of blogs I read with the article count. I tended to read friend’s or personal blogs first then moved onto the businessy/topic oriented type blogs:
- The Golden Piggy – 1
- Double-suited – 6
- Bacon is My Enemy – 1
- Feed all the Animals – 1
- Too – 1
- Monkey Wrestles Ghost – 1
Topic oriented blogs:
- Scientific American – 1
- Shrinking Violet Promotions – 2 (skimmed)
- Jan Chipchase – 7
- Location Independent blog – 3
- My Bad Habits – 1
- Steve Pavlina – 1 (long post, have learned to skim for morsels)
- Nicholas Kristoff – 6
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich – 2
- Jauntsetter – 11
- Career Renegade – 3
- Seth Godin – 10
- Ways to Survive Life – 4
- Women on Business – 11
- Healthbolt – 7
- Freelance Switch – 9
- Zen Habits – 4
- Greater Good – 4
- Someday Syndrome – 7
- Change This – 6
The percentage of posts I read and not skimmed was probably 15-20%. I enjoyed most the posts where I learned something new (Kristoff, Godin to name two) or felt something/learned more about the person writing the post (Feed All the Animals, Monkey Wrestles Ghost, Too). Majority of posts read was skimming to reinforce concepts, which is always a good thing.
Since this reading dep experiment is now over, I plan to be more strategic about where I spend my time and what materials I read. I’ll shift my attention more away from blogs towards books, learning to skim some of the topic-oriented/reinforcement learning blogs. Articles from friends, mainly ones from my brother, get higher priority. I plan to check Facebook only twice a day, then to once a day and eventually to a few times a week. And I plan to establish two chunks of time a day where I sit and respond to all emails – gleaning subject title in between to determine if it requires a more immediate response.
So far, I’m happy to report, I’ve pretty much violated all these rules already. I must have been on Facebook at least 5 times on Wednesday, and checked email fairly constantly. I’ll work my way back to moderation now that I’m done bingeing. But first, I need a nap since all this reading has tired me out.