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Slower writing and reading for an age of distraction.pdf
Here are some of my emerging ideas about the potential for slower writing and reading in an age of distraction. I'd love to hear what you think of them. Best wishes. Bob
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Great questions, Alan. I doubt if there are any quick fixes, because the argument may be counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. Bring back the ancient art of rhetoric - the art and power of persuasion? Or just keep banging on? Or somehow come up with the evidence that 'cones of silence' - and reflection - demonstrably result in 'better' decisions/actions?
It so happens that we had a fascinating AMED Writers' Group (AWG) session in Brighton on 19 May when we explored some of these ideas further. There is no written record of our conversation, but you might be interested in seeing an outline of the process that I'd planned on introducing. In case it's of interest, I'm attaching it below. (It won't surprise you to know that we didn't follow it to the letter, but broadly it framed our conversations). At some point you might be interested in coming along to one of our AWG gatherings. Very best wishes. Bob
AMED Annual Writing Workshop, Brighton, 19 May 2017
Writing and reading in an age of distraction
with Bob MacKenzie
‘… with a pencil, you can redraw the world.’ (Kate Raworth)
1. Our writing and reading histories are unique and interdependent, influenced by issues of context, circumstance, scope, power and resources.
2. There are three classes of writer-readers (after Jacobs 2011: 107):
o The long form class – an elite minority of ‘extreme’ practitioners
o Those who have enjoyed writing/reading in the past, but who can be distracted from them, and
o Those who – for various reasons – have never (e.g. pre-literate societies) or rarely written or read written text [my addition]
3. In accommodating, resisting, or attempting to minimise, the effects of globalisation, digitalisation, or post-industrial writing or reading technology, we are not necessarily being mere Romantics or Luddites. Rather, we are seeking harmony and balance between old and new forms, methods and formats of expression and communication. Old and new forms of writing and reading can co-exist and enrich each other, if we can find or develop situationally-appropriate ways for them to do so.
4. Illustrations (including diagrams) are integral companions that can enhance or complement the written text. ‘The most powerful tool in economics is not money, nor even algebra. It is a pencil. Because with a pencil, you can redraw the world.’ (Kate Raworth)
5. What characterises our reading and writing histories is the presence or absence of love and attachment (after Ainsworth & Bowlby 1991, on child-parent relationships), and this is typically formed very early on in our lives.
6. At appropriate moments, serious writer-readers create ‘a cone of silence’ around themselves (after Jacobs, op cit: 117, citing Dennis Marsden).
A note about distractions
Whilst they bring undoubted benefits, there are signs that digital technologies are causing growing addiction (Bhutto 2017: 35, quoting Alter). Addiction (a distraction?) – which is ‘largely a function of environment and circumstance …. is an uncomfortable attachment of some kind. … And the internet, … , with its unpredictable but continuous loop of positive feedback, simulation of connectivity and culture of comparison, is “ripe for abuse”’.
Average attention span according to Microsoft Canada:
o 2000 – 12 seconds
o 2013 – 8 seconds (Goldfish had it at 9 seconds), and falling.
What other distractions might we be facing? How does this affect our writing/reading?
An activity: our reading and writing timelines
To bring us up to date, let’s see if we can we trace our writing/reading histories. Let’s try sketching a personal time line, showing highlights in the evolution of our writing and reading experiences and influences from our (and their?) birth until now. On this timeline, you could perhaps show reading on the left (or above) and writing on the right (or below)?
Once we’ve done this, we could discuss how such conditioning might have affected how each of us now approaches our writing and reading.
A written dialogue with our writing/reading
Borrowing from Ira Progoff’s structured Intensive Journaling methods (1992), as developed by John Sweet (2017; 2006), we can try approaching this in the following way:
1. Write 2-3 sentences on; ‘Where am I now with my writing/reading project(s)?
2. Then identify 10-12 ‘Stepping Stones’, starting with ‘I [Your Writing/Reading] began when …’) and finishing with the present moment. (You should find your timeline helpful here).
3. Note any image(s) that this exercise has evoked.
4. Then develop a short script/dialogue between your writing/reading and you in the first person. (e.g.:
o Sally: ‘Writing – how do you feel about your present relationship with me?’ …..
o Writing: ‘Well, Sally, you seem to have been somewhat distant and distracted from me recently. Why might that be? …..’
o Sally: ‘…..’ ) etc
5. How did you feel writing this dialogue? Make a note of this.
6. Read what you’ve written: How did it feel re-reading this?
7. Did any image(s) arise on re-reading?
8. Write down anything else that occurs to you now.
9. Read aloud what you’ve written so far to a critical friend (if you want to)
10. Reflect on and write down any insights you’ve gained from doing this about you and your writing/reading.
Some undistracted writing in a cone of silence
Now, work on your own with this morning’s experience to address and develop the writing/reading project or issue that you’ve identified/brought along with you. Then, share what you’ve written with a (different?) critical friend (if you want to), and write down your reflections on this experience.
Coming together in plenary.
Ainsworth, Mary and John Bowlby (1991). An ethological approach to personality development. American Psychologist, 46, 331-341.
Bhutto, Fatima (2017). Hooked online: Review of: Adam Alter. ‘Irresistible: Why we Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching’. Bodley Head. In: The Guardian Weekly, 12-18 May, p. 35
Jacobs, Alan (2011). The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. NY: Oxford University Press
Progoff, Ira (1992) At a Journal Workshop. NY: Putnam
Raworth, Kate (2017). Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Penguin.
Sweet, John (2006). Beyond reflective dogma. http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/155696.pdf.
Bob, you've just introduced me The Slow Movement....
I'm interested in this from a coaching perspective. Over the last few years I have noticed how a number of my clients have been 'too busy' for some of our sessions. Subsequently, I have found myself reading about this 'busyness' and writing blogs on the paradox of people being too busy to pause and reflect.
One of the prime purposes of coaching is to create that safe place where the client can take time to reflect - a word used regularly in your post.
Neuroscience tells us that poor decisions are an outcome of rushing and giving scant thought - and yet people are 'too busy' to consider that.
I, too, like Kathy Jones comment of 'seeing the apparent war between modernity and tradition as more complex than she thought it in the past.'
Your question of, 'How do we create spaces where those connections between old and new, fast and slow, public and private - can best be made?' is equally pertinent.
I would like to add a couple of questions:
How do you persuade people, who are 'indoctrinated' with doing everything quickly, to slow down?
How do you persuade organisations that time spent reflecting and thinking is valuable to them?
Just a thought....
Thank you very much for this thought-provoking post. You are indeed in the right place! There's so much in what you write that I can't possibly do it justice in my response at this very moment. (Perhaps I should have waited longer to find a more propitious time to write. Instead, I've succumbed to an urgent desire to acknowledge your contribution immediately, and in so doing may not do it the justice it deserves. Hoist by my own petard, poerhaps?).
In my book, by taking your time to pause before writing your post illustrates how - through their interactions - writing, the internet and reflection (fast and slow writing and reading?) can enrich a process of co-inquiry and of forming connections. I love your example of the Arts and Crafts 'Movement' (and I for one wouldn't have found it at all unhelpful were you to have mentioned it at the time).
I'm attracted to your conjecture that the 'war between modernity and tradition' is more complex than it might first appear. And I guess that there's always been a radical strand in tradition itself, so that tradition is never simply equated with conservatissm. Indeed two of the tweaks that I added to my notes on the train home on Friday night posed the questions 'Can slower writing and reading be viewed as an act of resistance against the hegemony of imposed demands for greater speed?' and 'Is neuroscience helping us to understand how – if at all - the internet is changing the way we think and act (including how we read and write)?'
Could it be that slower readers and writers are amongst the modern-day artisans that you seek? I suspect that slower writing and reading do indeed embrace what what you call 'craft' and 'mechanisation', and I tried to hint at this idea in my notes when I proposed that 'Digital technologies enable both new and old writing and reading to be accessible, just a click away. Wisely practised, slow and fast writing can co-exist profitably, and can enrich each other.'
For me, the difference you have made in connecting the personal and the political in reflecting on (explicating) our personal past and present experiences of writing and reading is that you have opened up an important space for us to consider the connections between private, semi-public and public utterances, whether oral or in writing or images. This is a whole area that's ripe for further exploration. How do we create spaces where those connections between old and new, fast and slow, public and private - can best be made?
Let's keep this conversation going. Best wishes. Bob
Am I in the right place to post? Hope so!
Bob, I had a quick thought while we were all working together on Friday but it would have interrupted the flow to share it then.
This came when you briefly mentioned that there had been other moments in time when people had expressed a preference for slowing down. I don't know what you had in mind when you said that, but what came to my mind straight away was the Arts and Crafts movement and William Morris. It would have interrupted things unhelpfully to mention it then, but I am moved now to do so...
I won't elaborate on William Morris and Arts and Crafts, hoping that colleagues already know about it or will take a moment or two to check it out e.g. at wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arts_and_Crafts_movement
What's happening for me now in noticing why I saw this connection is that I'm seeing the apparent war between modernity and tradition as more complex than I thought it in the past.
Morris was a socialist and at the same time an exponent of traditional production methods. The world around him was industrialising while he espoused old-fashioned forms of production and aesthetic values that he and others saw as threatened by mechanisation and industrialisation. These days we would automatically ascribe conservative political values to such a position. But Morris was not doing this from a reactionary position. His commitment to traditional techniques and quality was a commitment to the skills and abilities of skilled working people, to artisans.
What might such thinking mean for us now?
I don't know! But some easy questions:
Who are the artisans now? Is there a group of experts whose skills are now mass-produced by others in a degraded form?
But are craft and mechanisation automatically at war?
If they are at war, is that a real and inevitable conflict? Or is it a (maybe inevitable!) conflict that is to do with the economic interests of the combatants? Or matters of taste?
Or could we, as I think Alison was hinting, recognise and embrace the two as one? People can still read slowly if they access quickly. People can read quickly to access the thing they want to read slowly. (something here about places that most people go and then places that people go to who want more) ...
And now something that is important to me. Possibly off-topic, but also explanatory, so I'm going to say it in the spirit of noticing and honesty: my attachment to Modernity (I called it neophilia when we met) is, I am now thinking, fundamentally political. And to do with the history of my family. My grandfather was an architect in Vienna in the 1930s. They all lived in an estate that was a deliberate way of bringing good modern design into the scope of ordinary people. http://www.werkbundsiedlung-wien.at/en/ and this and many more radical artistic and social aspirations were ended by what happened under Hitler.
So. I understand my attachment to the new in these historical terms, as embracing something progressive and therefore by definition good. I didn't say any of that on Friday, not least because I already knew that it's way more complicated than that.
Now I'm wondering about what difference it might have made to have made this known.
The biggest difference would probably have been to steal other people's time!
But I'm also now wondering what did other people have in their pasts and presents that they didn't bring forward on the day but which might be relevant to these thoughts about slow and fast, attachments to new and old etc.
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