In praise of slow thinking.

8 12 2010

Like an idiot, I finished the book I was reading last night long before the final I was giving ended. Therefore, I hopped on the university computer in the room and started using my own blogroll as I guide for whittling away the time. In doing so, I came across a lovely old post by Mary Beard at A Don’s Life. In it, she defends libraries, but I’m more interested in her broader point:

The fact is that really good thinking is often a very SLOW process .. and it is the kind of process that goes on when you are waiting the thirty minutes that it takes for the book to arrive on you table, or on the 15 minute (for me) bike ride to the library. Indeed speed of information retrieval can actually work against good thinking. (Should we, I wondered, start a SLOW THINKING movement like slow cooking. . .?)

As an absent-minded professor, I’ll join the movement with bells on. Indeed, I think it’s all the thinking I do that tends to make me this way. Nevertheless, if you’re trying to anything that requires a lot of thought, thinking about it for a long time is practically required.

Take writing a book, for example. I’m at the stage where my manuscript is done, but it’s far from perfect. Most days, somewhere in the back of my mind are a few ideas about how to tweak it. There are blog posts I’ve written – not this one, alas – but more than a few others which I’ve turned over in my head for hours before I actually sat down and written them. More than occasionally, I shut my door about ten minutes before one of my classes start and just think about how best to explain a difficult concept coming in that day’s lecture or discussion.

My long-suffering wife’s slogan to help a distracted thinker like me to get through the day is “Live in the now!,” which is what I now constantly remind myself when I need to do a lot of little things in a very short time. Perhaps the wonderful thing about a library then is that you don’t really have to do that. For example, if I were in a library, I’d be able to sit down and concentrate on that even if I didn’t check out a single book. It’s the peace and quiet I appreciate. Maybe that’s why the day always slips by so fast whenever I’m doing research.

Losing that to Google Books or some other National Digital Library would be a terrible loss.

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