Drowning in the 21st Century


Too many gurus, too little time

Random thoughts about random reading

guru work life balance overwhelmed

Work Life Balance: I picked up a great book the other day, more or less by accident: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Never heard of the author or the book but the title grabbed me when I saw it lying around somewhere… Some of my most inspiring reads have come to me completely randomly… try it out, I highly recommend random reading, as well as this particular book. (You can always tell how much I enjoy a book by the number of folded pages. The one has many)

happiness project

But it’s been a struggle getting through it, not because the book is boring but because I seem to give myself less and less time and space to just read, and especially to read anything longer than a couple of paragraphs.

I’ve started to become so used to reading short bites all over the place that anything longer than a couple of hundred words makes me impatient.

The Guardian online

I’ve noticed this same phenomenon in all the reading I do. I subscribe to the Guardian online and it’s got lots of wonderful writing in it … and sometimes the articles are long… really long and I find myself reading articles I enjoy except that I start to skim read them… just because I am impatient.

People say, that it is the negative effect of the Internet, Facebook and Twitter that is causing this phenomenon. It is thought that our focus on bits of text that are short to very short (140 characters in the case of Twitter) means that we losing our ability to focus on one thing for any length of time. We don’t pick up books anymore to read like we used to, because we are reading Facebook and Twitter. I do think that that is true, but I don’t think it’s the shortness of the Facebook messages rather the avalanche of messages, and news and information and material of interest that come to us constantly in overwhelming volumes.

Every day, the Guardian Online has more words, more articles and more information in it than the big Saturday papers like the Melbourne Age of even 10 years ago. I’m sure of it. It would take a whole day of solid reading just to read the normal daily edition and then only the stuff you find interesting. But at the same time I also have access to the Melbourne Age (as well as the SMH) and the Washington Post and the Frankfurter Allgemeine and Aljazeera. And that’s just the newspapers. There’s also the posts and articles in various groups on linkedin, your twitter feed and an ever-growing stream of blogs and online publications (I produce one of those myself and you’re reading it right now of course)

flip bookThe more I read, the less I know

The Internet, the smartphone and Facebook haven’t killed reading; quite the opposite, I read much more now than I have ever read in my life. But a lot of it is shallow reading. I do still read books, but often I get to page 50 and I notice myself starting to skim read. I just don’t have anywhere near as much patience to read deeply as I used to. I want to move on to the next thing… what else is going on… what else do I need to know now.

Because if I don’t move on, I’m missing out. I’m constantly alerted to interesting blogs and interesting developments. The gurus in my field all write blogs (Seth Godin writes one every day) If I don’t read those I am falling behind; so quick, quick; read the opening paragraphs… scroll down the bottom and go on to the next article.

Here’s the thing though, we can’t read everything and we can’t be perfectly informed and besides world news and world developments are becoming so depressing that you’d do yourself an injury trying to stay up-to-date with it all. The danger of reading more and more, and shallower and shallower is that our knowledge and understanding becomes shallower as well… I know less about more. There are more and more things I know a tiny little bit about. I noticed myself quoting some wisdom the other day that came from a post on Facebook. Did I actually know what was going on? Do I have any understanding of what is going on in the middle east beyond what I see on Facebook and in the headlines in the Guardian (no time to read the whole article of course)

My resolution

So here is my resolution: I am going to become much more selective. I am looking to find a very select group of people around the world who, I think, have something really special to say. I want to find a small bunch of people who will challenge my thinking and stretch my boundaries and who have something truly interesting to say and I will follow them and read them.

So here is my question to you: give me a name, a recommendation… who do you read, all the time, who makes you think, or gives you food for thought (Good food… not McDonalds) … If there was only one person in the world you could read regularly…who would that be? Now don’t give me a whole list of people… I only want to end up with a short list of 5 to 10 people maximum.

brene brown

(Currently my candidates are: Oliver Burkeman at the Guardian, Brene Brown from Texas and Graham Long from the Wayside Chapel in Sydney).

Besides my limited bunch of gurus, I’m going to make time again, dedicated time, for uninterrupted book reading. As it is, most of the books of the world are going to remain unread by me, and that’s sad enough. Reading books whether online, in audio format or in actual honest to goodness book form, is and will always be the most effective and enjoyable way to really deepen your insight into a certain topic… Truly.

So I started my resolution this morning I got up at 6, lit a couple of candles, made myself a cup of tea and picked up the happiness project, a good solid two hours of it and I kept my phone at the other end of the room… It was great

So, please, send me your favourite guru or columnist or blogger, someone I absolutely must no longer live without.

5 comments on “Drowning in the 21st Century

  1. Two things… (1) I had to stop myself from skimming this to get to your ‘point’ (because I was genuinely curious!), and (2) You hit the nail on the head re reading time: I started getting up at 5am at the end of last year just to read! It’s fantastic…! Quiet, alert, no interruptions… Now I just need that good list. Can’t really add to it with authors, although I’ve found some interesting books! 🙂

  2. I have noticed the same phenomenon in my own reading. As an act of defiance, I battled literary fatigue and read your article all the way to the end. Thank you.
    My suggestion – not a single author I’m afraid; but a single website. http://www.medium.com The scope and depth of articles is a joy; almost none of them short. dp

  3. Thanks Ross, David and Geoff. Ross, I’m always keen to get a good book title or twenty… hit me with a couple and DP I’m heading to Medium dot come now

  4. Hi Roland

    Have to tell you how much I loved your article – you have really tapped into something. I have been thinking similar thoughts about the limitations of how I currently gain ‘knowledge’ and how shallow my insights are as a result.

    Classic example – we all had great observations over dinner a couple weeks back, but the conversation lacked depth sometimes because we couldn’t inform each other with any more insight than the social media grabs we had all too quickly digested in preceding days. How to go deeper? Pick up a book… or read some well written thoughtful research based insight on current matters.

    For me… The Atlantic has great articles that are LONG but well researched and thoughtful, so does the Australian quarterly essay. I also subscribe to Fast Thinking and HBR because together they are a catch-all for business ideas, new and ‘old’. And how could we go past The New Yorker.

    So I tend to trust in well edited and properly researched writing bastions of the publishing world to keep the pulse on the zeitgeist, rather than individuals. It’s a lot of content, but I would find it too hard to name just a few thinkers, that would keep me adequately well informed. Stops me shiteing on about sustainability too much, although we shouldn’t shy away from our own intellectual value as well practiced professional experts.

    I love being able to join the dots between my work and the world of finance for example. What I like about Rudi’s work is that he has very broad AND deep knowledge in his field (but reads little else!). What I love about you is that you are an expert in the SME world but also try to be Catholic and informed in your world views. I applaud you! But don’t forget the value of your own world view and expertise Mr H 🙂

    Thank you for capturing this 21st century infobestity angst – spot-on!

    Amanda xxx

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