The RestartGTD guide to reading

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Source: The Economist.com

Late addition!!!

Thanks to a reader comment, my memory was jogged and I remembered a GREAT article on the future of the book by Raymond Kurzweil in Library Journal January 1992.  The article is about technology life cycles (Precursor, Invention, Development, Maturity, False Pretenders, and Obsolescence, highly recommended!), but it illustrates technology phases using books.   There are three articles in the series, you can find the other two from the above article.

Introduction

“Ohhhhhhh, I get  it!  … I read therefore I am.” That is what my UM-St. Louis student Jim (how would you like some kook-aid) Jones said as he walked into my office for the first time.  I am a reader: a voracious and omnivorous reader.   My three sons are readers (all three finished the Hobbit and Trilogy as eight year olds). So, I think it is in the genes.

I have always loved books.  As an undergraduate I made a decision that my office decor would always be made up of books and book shelves.  For thirty five years of adult life, I have read and read and read.  I believe reading will continue while I have any cognitive functions intact.  However …

Books now look like clutter to me.  :-(

The floor plan of my 14′ x 12′ office is simple.  Clear desk at the west end of the room.  And bookshelves along all the other sides.  So, I’m now shadowed by three walls of … it pains me to say … clutter.

This post is part one of the RestartGTD approach to reading.

How I am reading today?

Here is the story.

The short answer is: Kindle.  No not the Kindle device.  Kindle for Mac.

When I landed the job teaching at Concordia University – Portland in 2010, I bought and iPad and a Kindle DX (2nd generation).  I figured that by January of 2011 that most of the faculty and students would be using Kindle to read text books and pretty much everything else.

Wrong.

When I arrived, I was surprised to see that students, though they use texting for interacting with all their friends, loved email.  This was a pleasant surprise because email is my Milieu, my most preferred form of communication.  But, it was a negative omen for iPads and Kindle devices.

Students loved email, but 1 in the first year of my teaching, had an iPad.  Ninety percent of students have either an Android smart phone, or an iPhone.  Very few have a Nook or a Kindle.  Those who had these devices were using them only for reading with their eyes.  The best thing about a Kindle device for me was being able to listen to books being read while commuting.  So, if you have a Kindle device, google how to make it talk to you.

So, here I sit broken hearted …

Not to worry!  Having a Kindle DX and an iPad with the Kindle software, was a stepping stone.  I initially would read on the DX.  This was great, buying a book took a minute.  I was able to highlight, bookmark, and annotate as I read (by the way I dog ear, write in, stick post-its, etc., in books as I process them).  The DX is light, it read to me (90% of books seem to have text-to-speech enabled), the built in dictionary was FANTASTIC for my vocabulary (*Aside* If you know an English as a second language person, or you are learning a foreign language, the dictionary function cuts lookup time by a factor of 10).  Nice.

However, once I had tasted the iPad Kindle app, I could not stand how slow the DX was.  So, I moved my reading to Kindle on the iPad.  This allowed all the same benefits except the iPad does not do text-to-speech (*Note* the Kindle Fire also does not do text to speech).  But the sensitivity of the iPad screen was all wrong for highlighting.  And, this point I was hooked on highlighting, because the Kindle software allows you to view just the highlighted parts of a book, so highlighting speeds up re-finding key passages.

But, just for grins, I tasted the Kindle app for Mac.  (Note: You can get Kindle for your PC or Mac by going to http://www.amazon.com/kindleforpc or http://www.kindleformac.com.) Once I started reading via Kindle on my 11″ Macbook Air (MBA) I could no longer stand the slowness of the iPad or the difficulty in selecting text for highlighting on the iPad.  So, how I read books today, has shifted entirely over to my 2.1 pound 11″ MBA.  I now have 174 Kindle books on the MBA and mercifully, it does not weigh an ounce more than when I bought it!

But … but … what about non-book reading?

Interesting you should ask!  My non-book reading is shifting over to … wait for it … wait for it …. Evernote.  Huh?  How can Evernote be a reading app?

Simple I will show you:

Evernotegrabtools

 Source: Google Chrome Web Browser on my school office iMac 24″

 While I do have a subscription to the tree-killing Economist magazine.  I actually read the Economist via Evernote.  I web surf to the Economist web site, then read.  When I find an article that I think I may ever refer to again in a conversation or project, I click on either the elephant icon (a.k.a. Evernote web clipper that I wrote about recently), or on the Luxo Lamp icon (a.k.a. Evernote Clearly).

What is Evernote Web Clipper?

Allows me to select text and then clip it to Evernote for later reading.  See previous post here and Evernote’s web clipper page for details.

What is Evernote Clearly?

Let me explain with an example.  Go to PCMAG.com and click on the cover GPS article and this is what you will see:

Pcmagnormal

Clutter anyone?  If you click on the Evernote Clearly (Luxo Lamp) icon while looking at this page, this is what you will see:

Pcmagclearly

Evernote Clearly is like personal digital video recorders that strip out commercials.   Clearly allows you to see and/or cut to the meat of interesting web pages, leaving out Flash animations, advertising, and gratuitous cross linking.

So, once you clear the article of clutter, you read it in your browser, and if you don’t have time to finish, or if you know you’ll want to refer back to this article and web page, you clip the article to your Evernote reference filing system.

I read in Evernote more and more each week as my short term memory is shifting from creating book marks to the good stuff, to clipping and forgetting good stuff because I know I’ve got it in Evernote.  But seriously, Evernote Clearly is worth having just to be able to read web pages in peace.

What does any of this have to do with GTD?

GTD is about organizing and re-organizing one’s informational infrastructure in order to liberate the mind and make the biggest dent in this big old world, possible.  Writing is a big part of this org/reorg process.  And consequently, so is reading.  Casting your reading into electronic technology enables you to:

  • Have more of your infrastructure with you at any given time.  For example, Bill Jelen’s most excellent Excel 2010 In Depth in Kindle form.  Is on all three of the computers I use along with Excel.
  • Use more slices of otherwise wasted time, to read and refresh your mind.
  • Travel much lighter.  The days of 50# backpacks in grad school are over.  Now I’ve got my world in the 2.1 pound Macbook Air.
  • Increase the naturalness and expressive power of your work.
When I organize I feel God’s pleasure.  Moving my reading to electronic means has allowed me to read much more, find what I’ve read faster, and access to more external pertinent information has increased the creativity and speed with which I accomplish projects.
I suspect that David Allen hates to “back” any technology because technologies come and go.  For me, however, technology is how I do GTD.  Swaping paper for electronic reading has increased the efficacy of my work.
Reading efficiently and effectively, just matters.  :-)
bill meade

4 thoughts on “The RestartGTD guide to reading

  1. Pingback: Marvelous fun with “swing” | RestartGTD

  2. All very well and good! I’ve tried Evernote too, and I accept what you say about the MacBook Air. This sounds great (by the way, what do you think of the Microsoft Surface – you’ll actually be able to write on the screen (why didn’t Apple do this (properly) with iPad?!), and with the open/full OS of Microsoft, organisation might be more flexible and less app centric.

    As a musician, I love the idea that the people at Evernote might create a musical ‘Evernote’. The language of music could severely gain from technologies, currently only instigated on the English language.

    Just some thoughts.

    I like Evernote for the reasons you’ve stated, but find amazon limited when it comes to copying/pasting text. Is it easier on the Kindle MacBook app?

    I’m also miffed by how to organise this info.

    And anxious that I forget it.

    Perhaps I need to just store it appropriately and let go – but purging my computer of all this info someday, scares the c*** out of me.

    Interesting post!

  3. How have you found the reading from your computer screen on the eyes??…..I find that the kindle is much better for longer reading endeavors, so I don’t know if I could completely go the route of computer….

    • Thanks for commenting Rob!

      I don’t find any difficulty reading on the iPad or the Macbook Air. The best history I’ve read of books I should have mentioned in the article, is by Raymond Kurzweil in Library Journal in January 1992. I often assign this article to my MBA marketing strategy classes.

      So, why am I telling you this? Because difficulty reading from a computer was real in the days of CRT screens set at 60 Hz. Raymond Kurzweil explains in LIBRARY JOURNAL:

      With books now a fully mature technology, the false pretenders have arrived with the first wave of “electronic books.” As is usually the case, these false pretenders offer dramatic qualitative and quantitative benefits. CD-ROM-based electronic books recently introduced by Sony and others (as well as CD-ROM-based software for personal computers) can provide the equivalent of thousands of books on a single diskette with powerful computer-based search and knowledge navigation features. With my CD-ROM-based encyclopedia, I can perform rapid word searches using extensive logic rules, something that is just not possible with the 33-volume “book” version I possess. Other CD-ROMs I have can provide pictures that are animated or that respond to my input. Pages are not necessarily ordered sequentially, but can be explored along more intuitive connections.

      The eye of the beholder

      So what’s the problem? As with the phonograph record and the piano, this first generation of false pretenders is missing an essential quality of the original, which in this case is the superb characteristics of paper and ink. First of all, paper does not flicker, whereas the typical computer screen is displaying 60 to 72 interlaced frames per second. This is a problem because of an evolutionary adaption of the primate visual system. We are only able to see a very small portion of the visual field with high resolution. This portion, imaged by the fovea portion of the retina, is focused on an area about the size of a single word at 22 inches away. Outside of the fovea, we have very little resolution but exquisite sensitivity to brightness changes. This allowed our primitive forebears to quickly detect a predator that might be attacking. The constant flicker of a color/graphics adapter (CGA) or video graphics array (VGA) computer screen is detected by our eyes as motion! and causes constant movement of the fovea. This substantially slows down reading speeds, which is one reason that reading on a screen is less pleasant than reading a printed book.

      Another issue is contrast. A good quality book has an ink-to-paper contrast of about 120:1. Typical screens are perhaps half of that.

      A crucial issue is resolution. Print and illustrations in a print book represent a resolution of about 600 to 1000 dots per inch (dpi). Typical computer screens are about one-tenth of that with the new CD-ROM-based electronic tronic books providing even less.

      So because flicker has been eliminated with LCD panels, and contrast and resolution have improved past the point of “good enough” I think that the difference between paper/ink and LCD screen is much smaller today. I believe you that LCDs are more difficult than e-paper to read, I think the resolution of paper printing is 2,000 dpi and we are using much less than that on both the e-paper and LCDs.

      This just isn’t a problem for me. The Macbook Air is great to read from because: 1) is is backlight so I can read it in the dark without waking up the house, 2) it has a built in stand that lays on your chest when reclined, so you don’t have to hold the device vertically while the blood drains from the tips of your fingers (Kindles don’t have eyestrain, they have “circulation strain” on the tips of fingers and wrists), 3) And this is decisive for me, the MBA Kindle software is 10x faster than the e-paper screen. Speed enables me to look up more words, read faster, markup more easily, and have an improved experience compared with reading on the DX, and 4) I have one less device to take. If I read on my Android phone (only while traveling) or Macbook Air, then I don’t have to take the Kindle.

      To each his/her own. Reading devices are experience goods, you have to try them before you can evaluate if you like them. And trial isn’t five minutes of reading in a store. I find that like many GTD infrastructure decisions, I have to try the alternatives for a couple to three months before I’m comfortable with deciding.

      Thanks for writing!

      bill meade

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