I spent many hours working on a paper the other day. This, in itself, is not particularly notable. Instead, the sense of intense, almost unshakable focus that came afterward made me think. I took a break, visited with some friends, and found my brain obsessively revisiting my topic, probing, exploring, writing phrases and ideas along the wrinkles of my gray matter. And when I returned to finish my paper, the thing flowed from my fingertips into the keyboard almost effortlessly. I was in the zone.
Now, beside the little bit of necessary bragging, I think that this experience was notably not of my own creation or skill. This feeling has become more and more common for me as I have studied at Goshen. And I think that it comes from reading deeply.
I know that I for one have felt the constant presence of the internet: that luring call that says one more video, one more quippy blog post, one more article, one more flash game, one more kitten, one more, one more, one more. And, for the most part, I enjoy it. These things aren’t mere distractions; they are, quite often, pleasant distractions. We continue to watch You Tube videos of cats because we find them adorable.
My problem, and I suspect many other people feel the same way, is when those distractions become the norm. When we wish to focus, to think deeply or to really consider, and we find ourselves checking our email almost against our will (note: I quite literally did this in the middle of this sentence).
Being an English major has, for me, been a partial antidote to this. My time spent in front of a computer, equal parts connected and disconnected, is countered by the time that I spend reading. And not just reading, but reading things slowly and reading things which require ongoing concentration. Regardless of the value and enjoyment that I find in what read, the simple process of reading counters today’s frenetic culture.
If I owe the English department nothing else, I owe them my current ability to focus when necessary. I see deep reading as enabling deep thinking, which is applicable to any number of topics. And that is a good thing.