The Art of Thinking in Reading

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Humans thrive on information.

This is why the internet is an immediate attraction with people globally as with its emergence, there also arises an easy access to information from numerous sources, with viewpoints more varied and diverse than what traditional media is able to offer.

Reading has always been one of the favourite past time of humans and it still remains to be so. What has changed are our reading habits.

“Where ,once, we have read for depth, now we read for breadth (which probably explains the decline of the encyclopaedia. Of course, there is now Wikipedia).”

In addition, we are now more selective in what we read than before, opting for news feed from online social media than reading hard copies of newspapers and magazines. Nevertheless, newspapers and news magazine still has their place for providing the depth that most online information lacks.

Regardless of our current reading habits and preferences, an inevitable fact remains: we are looking for more information now than before – even in the face of information overload. While some have argued that information overload will put some readers off from acquiring more information or risk getting confused from various information, this has not happened.

“In fact, on the contrary, something interesting has happened: our neural pathways have adapted to this new way of acquiring information.”

We can see it happening in schools and in the workplace. Students and working professionals are now being selective about what they read without being taught about it in lessons. So what do they read? Yes, they read what interest them. It is human nature to read what sustains our interest. This often spills over into whatever we see, hear, do and engage in.

Some websites already have interfaces that employ cookies to track the websites we visit, as well as product and services that we view previously. This practice is prevalent in both commercial enterprises and institutions of public service such as public libraries.

What this implies is that we are getting more of what we want instead of what we are able to explore. Eli Pariser said it best in this TED video.

“If we were to look at the news articles that we read on a continuous basis, we often find that the article content is often repetitive, and just phrased and worded in a different ways. So, continuous reading of such materials merely deepens our understanding and strengthens our beliefs in the stand made in the article. However, this may not substantiate the arguments made.”

So, in present times, we really need to take a step back and question the very premise that everything we read is useful.  This is crucial not just in educational institutions but also in the workplace.

In the absence of clear thinking, we run the risks of groupthink and skewed thinking. Every article is written with a certain intent and goal in mind, to persuade the readers to its point of view, including this post. Please think deeply about what this post is trying to telling you as this is why this post is written.

We live in a time when we read articles in their entirety and with such a fast speed that it’s inadvertent that the mind absorbs the information rapidly without much contemplative processing. This is fine when reading a novel since its content seeks to broaden your scope and understanding of the narrative tale.

However, it is a different story when reading factual news, commentaries, non-fiction materials as well as research findings. Such materials have direct influence on our lives and hence, we need to be mindful of every argument being made.

“There is a certain truth in the saying that what we read, we become.  And there is almost a complete truth to the saying that what we think, we become. “

It’s precisely because of this that we should always think when reading before taking in what we read. It seems that most of us do not have this habitual tendency.

What does it mean?

“It means having the foresight of our prior beliefs, then taking the initiative to compare what we know and believe with what is being read, and having the awareness and possessing the courage to disagree with any arguments made while still having the open-mindedness to examine any contradictory arguments that are made.”

Besides assessing the validity of the arguments, we also need to do associative thinking when reading such that creative ideas can emerge. This is true both in education and in business.

Such is the art of thinking.

There are now universities who have integrated this cross-disciplinary approach in some of their modules but this is not prevalent at this point in time for this approach to be instrumental in shaping our reading habits for the better.

“Learners and business professionals need to understand the mechanics behind associative thinking, such that more innovations can be discovered to better society and to further the positive progress of the world. “

So, the next time we flip through or scroll through any new information, let us ask ourselves the reasons why we disagree with some arguments that are put forward, and what connections we can make between the disparate elements of different disciplines and topics.

Only then will we be better learners, and not merely an information sponge.

Patrick Tay is an English Language and Life Skills Training Specialist who is based in Singapore. He has been teaching communication studies and international issues in polytechnics and writes regularly on various issues of interest in education, media, business and global issues at patricktay.wordpress.com. He can be contacted at teachingwitheart@gmail.com

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