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October 27, 2011 / Kuan

Read Wisely, Think Critically and Act Responsibly

Since I finished college and the News21 fellowship in August, the real world has tenderly embraced me into her arms. I’m among the luckiest to find an paid internship at a studio I love, live in the City full of inspirations and most importantly, have time to read. Read for homework? No longer. The liberty to read for pleasure is a bliss.

So far, three months in, I have finished more than a dozen books and numerous articles, ranging from cultural critique to true crime, most of which I finished cover to cover on my daily subway commute. To squeeze more time to read, I changed my reading patterns from continuously devoting a big chunk of time to books to my current “reading sprints,” I set a goal to read a few chapters and only allow for 45-to-60-minute total reading time every day. To my surprise, looking back at my experiment so far, my initial fear of losing the thread of thought by splitting reading time never came to exist. The secret ingredient, in my recipe, is the notion of preciousness.

The Notion of Preciousness and How to Read Wisely

Writer, designer and editor Mandy Brown, the woman behind A Work Library and the fantastic A Book Apart series, recently observed that people read online more than ever.

They even read long articles, and straight to the end. They read one article after the other. They crave reading in the quiet moments of the day—waiting in line for coffee, riding the bus, enjoying a glass of wine before their date arrives at the bar. They read while walking down the street; they read at their desk in between tasks; they buy devices that permit them to carry more words than they ever could before—and with those devices in hand they read more and more. –Mandy Brown, “A Web Designed for Reading

Facing the overwhelming flow of twitter updates and news feed, many of us grow the appetite for information. We constantly want more, but puzzle over how to magically add more hours to what already seems to be a crazy schedule. Instead of stressing out about how little time I have for the amount of information, I try to select. Select the best piece of information to read for the hour/day/week/month, and know that the next selection will always be not only more timely, but also better, as knowledge builds on. By selecting, the time I spend on reading the article, book or whatever is so much loved and focused. Consequently, I am more engaged in the content and more critical to the author’s thinking – I underline, annotate more often and always remember where I leave off.

Imagine condense a year worth of time you’ll have with your beloved to a month, and how would you spend that time? You don’t need my answer to the that question.

Say no if you love something

I’m not crazy by saying that, either is Liz Danzico.

Co-founder and Chair of MFA Interaction Design program at School of Visual Arts, she noted:

What we choose to leave out create the story. – Liz Danzico, “Lesson,” published in The Manual Issue One

If one truly loves something, say no to other choices that present themselves. It’s tough, to be sure, to turn down opportunities, especially when they knock on your door. But if it’s the evolving relationship you’ve had with books that you love, or let it be the absence of it, you have to choose to protect the ingenuity.

In doing so, something else wonderful happens. It’s called thinking.

Let’s use our body as an example. After we eat, our stomach needs a few hours to digest the food, absorb the nutrition and clear out the waste. You can’t rush through the process. (If you figure out a way to go around that, do share. Let’s be billionaires.) When the content isn’t thought through, I lost it in the matter of time. Even if there is an output of attaining the information, the output will be superficial, shallow and worth no further investigation. Meanwhile we acknowledge that good design/writing/art, as our stomach processing food, takes time, we seem to undervalue the thinking, which is the part of absorbing the nutrition in our stomach analogy.

So read more selectively and think more critically. And then, it comes the output.

Screenprinted motto on Fabric at Etsy Workshop with Jessi Arrington

Demos not Memos

The steps of input, process and output are shared between human and technology (More thinking on technology will be the topic of my next blog post, stay tuned). The only difference is that human output isn’t an pre-programed one-way behavior, but an integrated pathway, like an merged traffic lane or a mouth of streams, resulted from multiple past experiences. Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson, UK-based designers and speakers, a.k.a. The Standardistas, quoted cultural theorist John Berger in their essay “Designing the Mind” for The Manual: “Today the discredit of words is very great.” They therefore reflected:

In a world of 140-character missives and ill-considered blog comments, words rarely seem to be used to dig deep anymore or applied to the search for profound truths. Everything is surface, sometimes depressingly so.

To grow, we must act on our thinking, whether it is singing, writing, designing or photographing, with a vision that whatever we do, we leave a trace of knowledge behind that we’re forever responsible for.

Notes: Many articles and books have shaped the way I think, and therefore this essay. Here is a short list of what I’ve read:

The Manual: A beautifully crafted journal that takes a fresh look, in print, at the maturing of the discipline and profession of web design

Design with Emotion: Demonstrating accessible strategies and memorable methods to help you make a human connection through design

The UX Driven Startup: A web presentation by Alexa Andrzejewski, co-founder of Foodspotting

The Myths of Innovation: by Scoot Berkun

What Technology Wants: by founder of Wired magazine Kevin Kelly

A Working Library: Website of Mandy Brown where she writes on reading and reads on writing

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