Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

In defense of reading

January 23, 2016

hattiptopetalmills971449_644412528911074_2040387977_nHat tip to Petal Mills.

The passing scene: January 10, 2015

January 10, 2015

The End of Gangs: Cleaning Up Los Angeles, California by Sam Quinones for Pacific Standard.

gangs-illoGood news.  The Los Angeles Police Department is making headway against street gangs through a combination of community policing and hard-nosed law enforcement.

The LAPD forms alliances with ministers and other community leaders in high-crime neighborhoods, sets up Police Athletic Leagues for young men and has police walk beats instead of riding around in cruisers.

At the same time it uses a legal process called the gang injunction to forbid known gang members from hanging out together in public and RICO—the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act—to convict gang members and send them to federal prisons far from California.

BN-GA546_1214co_J_20141215190545Photos: The Concrete Cowboys of Philadelphia by Chelsea Matiash for the Wall Street Journal.

Photographer Charles Mostoller documented teenage horseback riders in urban Philadelphia.

Soil-Derived Drug Could Overcome Antibiotic Resistance by Karen Weintraub for MIT Technology Review.

Antibiotics: US discovery called ‘game changer’ for medicine by James Gallagher for BBC News.

_80111218_c0230860-mycobacterium_smegmatis_bacteria,_sem-splMore good news.  New diseases such as Ebola resist known anti-biotic resistant drugs, creating a danger of reverting to the age when most infectious diseases were incurable.  The discovery of a new kind of anti-biotic averts this danger, at least for this generation.  But the evolution of bacteria through natural selection will make this a continuing struggle.

Hunter-gatherer past shows our fragile bones result from inactivity since the invention of farming by ScienceDaily.

What Happens to Our Brains When We Exercise and Why It Makes Us Happier by Leo Widrich for Fast Company.

If modern human beings were as active in youth as our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we’d have the muscle and bone strength of orangutans, which are very strong.  Even being moderately active does you good.

Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books by Rachel Grate for Arts.Mic.

Neuroscientists say that regular reading reduces stress and the risk of mental deterioration in old age, and that reading printed books is more effective than reading from screens.

The new normal: Links & comments 7/21/14

September 21, 2014

There Are Social and Political Benefits to Having Friends by David Brooks for the New York Times.  (Hat tip to Hal Bauer)

David Brooks argued for the benefits of friendship, especially how good friends bring out the best in each other.  He proposed, tongue in cheek (I think), a program for bringing people together in circumstances in which they would be likely to become friends.  I think it strange to live in a world where the value of friendship is an unfamiliar idea that you have to argue for.

Read Slowly to Benefit Your Brain and Cut Stress by Jeanne Whalen for The Wall Street Journal.  (Hat tip to David White)

I think this article, too, is strange.  The author cites scientific studies that show the benefits of reading, and specifically of reading from printed books, as if reading were an unfamiliar activity that needs justification.

Eight Things We Can Do Now to Build a Space Colony This Century by Annalee Newitz for io9.

Based on the comments, the most controversial of the eight proposals is to build a sustainable future here on Planet Earth so that the space colonists will have a world to come home to.   Some of the hard-core space enthusiasts think this is a false priority.


The joy of reading

November 12, 2013




Click on INCIDENTAL COMICS for more Grant Snider drawings.


After B&N: a book-lover’s best alternative

August 1, 2013

When Borders opened its first super-store in the Rochester, NY, area, I felt I was in a book-lover’s paradise.  I could walk into the store looking for a specific books, not necessarily a best-seller, and have a good chance of finding it.  Not only that, but if I wanted to, I could sit down and read the book until I made up my mind whether I wanted to buy it or not.

The locally-owned new-book stores went out of business, but I didn’t care.  I thought it was a price worth paying.

A woman reads at a Barnes and Noble store in VirginiaThen Barnes & Noble came to town, with an even bigger selection of books than Borders, which eventually went out of business.  I thought that was great.

Now Barnes & Noble seems to be in trouble.  The stores in the Rochester area have the atmosphere of a business in decline—a smaller selection (at least of the kind of books I’m interested in), more non-book items.  What management seems most interested in selling is B&N’s Nook reader.

Many people, myself included, would hate to see Barnes & Noble go out of the mass bookstore business.  Click on 10 Ways to Save Barnes & Noble for some of their ideas to keep the bookstore chain going.

But you know what?  There’s another place in town with an even larger selection of books than Barnes & Noble.  There are more places there than B&N to sit down and read all day, if that’s what you choose.  And if you read something and decide to buy it on-line, that won’t make any difference.

I refer to the Rochester Public Library, which was here before Barnes & Noble came and I hope will be here many years to come.  Public libraries, like many other public services, are under attack these days.  That’s why I make an annual contribution to the Friends of the Rochester Public Library.  It would be sad to lose Barnes & Noble, but catastrophic to let the public library system decline.

What the Internet is doing to our brains

August 6, 2010

When I first started using the Internet to find information, I noticed that I had a harder time concentrating on what I read on a computer screen than what I read on the page of a book.  I wondered whether the reason was in the Internet or in me.  I wondered whether it was a generational thing, because I did not grow up with the Internet, or a function of old age and the decline of mental power.

Nicholas Carr

After reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, I think I know the answer.  It’s not me.  It’s the Internet.

Scientists have discovered that the human brain literally rewires itself, depending on what mental faculties are used and not used. eurologists have discovered that the brain changes its structure depending on which mental functions are used most extensively.  For example, London taxi drivers, who are required to know the geography of London by heart, have a larger and more fully developed posterior hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes and remembers spatial relations, than most people do; they also have a less developed anterior hippocampus, which might affect their ability to do other kinds of memorization.

Users of the Internet have extensive brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with decision-making and problem-solving. Book readers have activity in regions of the brain associated with language, memory and visual processing. That’s because of the distracting nature of hypertext, even in the absence of pop-ups, advertisements and other junk. Multitasking is the enemy of concentration.

Tests have shown that reading comprehension is less with hypertext (texts with links to other sources of information) than with plain text.  Even if you ignore the links, the increased demand of decision-making and visual processing, as tiny as it may seem, uses up bandwidth in the brain that would otherwise go to memorizing and thinking about the text.

Likewise, reading comprehension of text plus audiovisual material is less than with text only.  Comprehension of a lecture is less with students allowed to access the Web than those forced to listen to the lecture; maybe this is obvious, but the theory was that students could use Web access to enrich their understanding of the lecture.  Comprehension of a standard CNN broadcast with info-graphics and a news crawl at the bottom of a screen is less than with the same broadcast with those elements removed.

Nicholas Carr writes that the writing of books brought into being a new way of thinking – the focus on a single thing to the exclusion of all else.  This is something that had to be learned.  The human brain evolved when humans were hunters and gatherers, and had to be alert to everything going on around them. The blooming, buzzing confusion of the Internet is more adapted to the nature of the brain than the linear experience of reading.

Nevertheless, according to Carr, the ability to focus on a single thing is the source of human creativity.  It is the source of scientific discovery and artistic creation. The nobler emotions – compassion, love of truth – require more thought than the baser ones – fear, anger. That is why Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and other religious believers all taught techniques of meditation that make it possible for people to get control of their minds.

The ability to think deeply on any subject requires holding it in short-term memory long enough for the brain to generate proteins and synaptic connections needed to hold it in long-term memory.  The distracting nature of the Internet makes this harder to do.


I can stop any time I want.

May 21, 2010

I have been a voracious reader of books since I was a young boy.  I still am, but for many years now, I’ve spent increasing amounts of time each day reading articles on Internet web sites and web logs.

I notice that my ability to concentrate is much less when I am sitting in front of a screen than when I am sitting with a book on my lap.  I’ve wondered whether this is something inherent in the technology or whether this is because my habits were formed well before the computer age. Or whether this is just part of growing older.

Nicolas Carr published an article in The Atlantic magazine two years ago arguing that it is the technology. He has developed his argument in a new book, The Shallows. He argues that the limited human brain cannot at the same time keep up with all the multitasking, multimedia, advertising popups and other distractions on a typical Internet site, and at the same time devote full attention to the text.

Even the micro-decisions involved in passing over hyper-links use up cognitive capability, he said. Accordingly, I have put the links for this post below the fold.

I suppose the same would hold true of the distractions of Fox News, CNN and other cable news channels. If you are following the news ribbon at the bottom of the screen, and all the other graphics, it is hard to concentrate, let alone think critically, about what the newscaster is saying.

Years ago, when I would get home from work, I would flop myself down on my sofa, turn on the TV set and start cycling through the channels. Even when I couldn’t find anything I wanted to watch, I would keep on channel-surfing.  After I retired, I broke the TV habit. I have Basic cable service and seldom watch TV, but I spend almost as much time Internet-surfing now as I did channel-surfing then.

By starting this web log, I have put my Internet habit to what I hope is a socially productive use.  In moderation, it should not interfere with my ability to enjoy the pleasures of reading and conversation.  If this proves to be untrue, I can stop any time I want.