Thu 23 Apr 2009
I do my best to keep up with the latest technology and I like to read a lot about what’s going on in the world of programming. However, I also have a limited amount of time to read. Lately, I’ve been taking a hard look at my reading habits. This is usually made up of going to my favorite group-think sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon and see what the latest programming blog posts are. Over the last few years more and more of my reading has turned to blogs. It feels more in touch with the community as a whole and keeps me on the edge of what’s going on.
The let down happened when I started thinking about the content of what I’m reading now versus what I was reading about 5-10 years ago. Blog content is great, but it’s like reading a newspaper that’s nothing but a big editorial section. Most posts are packed with unfiltered content that often falls into one of two categories; “You know what I think?” and “This is cool, check this out!”. Both types of blog post are great and I’ve spent many, many hours reading these. When I really thought about the content I’m reading though, I realized that I’m actually learning a lot less than I used to. That wasn’t the only problem either. Reading primarily in the browser has turned me into a skimmer, something I rarely used to do. There’s so much pure bloggage out there that you have to skim and filter what’s worth reading and what’s not. While that’s not awful in itself, I’ve noticed that I tend to retain a lot less when I read this way. I also found that reading the blogs was only half of the reading I was doing. The rest was reading people’s comments about what I had just read. I can easily spend more time reading that than reading actual blog content.
At some point in your life, you say things or do things that make you think to yourself, “I’m really getting old.” Everything is turning digital now. Do I sound old yet? In addition to programming, I’ve been a photographer for a long time, almost thirty years. I started back in high school doing black and white film and eventually built a darkroom in my house. About three years ago, I realized that buying film, paper and chemicals and spending countless hours in that darkroom could be replaced by spending a fraction of the time, at no cost, in front of my computer with Photoshop. It was a sad realization, but I moved on to a digital SLR and turned the darkroom back into the original walk-in closet. The only thing missing from Photoshop is actually feeling the film and the paper. It may not sound like much, but after so many years I can say that those things are significant. There’s something about handling the materials that puts you in touch with the process, and I haven’t found a replacement for that yet when I “develop” my photos the computer.
Reading is the same way. There’s something about sitting down with a book that puts you in the mode of committing to read. I can’t browse away from what I’m reading in a book with the click of a mouse. Actually opening the book, holding it in my lap and turning the pages makes me feel like I’m ready to learning something new. This is all about the experience of reading, and retaining what you read, without distraction. It’s the same reason I wasn’t allowed to do my homework with the TV on when I was in school. I can say for sure that I retain more when I read a book than when I read a blog at the computer.
Most computer books are also directed at actually teaching something. Whether it’s a book about a programming language, a way of approaching design, or how to see a development project through to completion, most books teach. However, it’s a rare occasion when a blog post really teaches you something. Opinion pieces are great and have their place, but when the scale tips from spending time reading books to reading blog posts, you’re also tipping the the scale of how much you’re learning.
So now you’ve read a blog post about why you should try to read less blog posts. You should probably eat more green vegetables and get eight hours of sleep each night, but I’ll save that for another post. I’m going to try to make a change in my blogging, and do more writing that leaves readers with something more useful than a simple conversation piece. Until then, try turning off the browser and go pick up a book… the trees will forgive you.