Archives for posts with tag: Information

I don’t know about you, but as I get older I find it harder to retain information.

I read loads, at work and for leisure. I remember the information for the short term, but it doesn’t stick over time and I have to go back to the information I need again. And again.

When I was younger, at school, I used to have regular tests, like loads of other kids. A lot of the tests were vocabulary tests, for different languages. I would cram, learn the words by rote, regurgitate them in the test, score well, and then forget many of them over time. Later, when I started taking the kind of exams where you couldn’t learn something by rote – you had to learn how to do it, like a solve a maths problem a certain way or learn how to do an income statement – I struggled.

When we need to retain information or knowledge, it has to happen regularly over time, as we absorb the new information or methods and learn the patterns that help us embed them with repetition and practice.

Something else needs to happen, though. We need to listen or read actively. We need to be engaged. It’s like saying hello to someone new for the first time and engaging the brain actively to remember their name. If we don’t pay the right kind of attention, the name is gone in an instant. If we listen actively, it stays for years, decades even.

There are lots of books and courses out there that help you remember names and other more involved concepts by figuring out connections and stories that make them memorable. But to me they’re more developed ways of engaging the brain for retention.

So it’s not really my getting older that’s the problem. It’s more that I live in an era of information overload and I’m scanning everything, rather than reading it properly.

The difference between read and retain is the difference between passive and active.

Does anyone read any long articles on the web these days?

Me, I love reading books. I like reading thrillers and crime stuff last thing at night before I turn out the light. These are physical books too, with the added thrills to the senses of smell and turning real pages.

I’m only just getting used to reading books electronically. This is in part because a couple of friends have taken the self-publishing plunge and opted for Kindle only, so otherwise I wouldn’t get the chance. In part it’s also because my screen-based reading habits have changed.

Don’t get me wrong, I still read long documents for work, but I don’t read long articles on the web any more. I prefer to read small, pithy stuff and when I see web content that looks long, I give it a skip, or else try and glean the high points.

It’s also why I prefer to blog in small chunks, rather than those who only blog about once a week or fortnight and it’s a War and Peace job. Who has time for that these days? Who has the attention span for it?

The web is primarily for us to glean information, knowledge or insight, and for that we want it immediately, authoritatively and expeditiously.