What you should do is:
- Protect "exploration mode". Ring-fence exploration mode and do not allow off-topic intrusions such as email or side-links to spoil your virtual book.
- At the beginning of the journey, fire up a text editor and ask yourself "what is the topic of my virtual book for the next hour?"
- In your text editor, write occasional notes, paste links, ... you are writing the table of contents of this unique virtual book.
- Take the same trip again at another time. Being the VBE (virtual book editor, remember?), you are a professional: you know that half of what you read is not well thought-out or credible. Thus, you are aware that to edit a really fine book, you will need to visit it again, dropping the not-so-good content. Those notes you took first time round, they'll come in handy now.
Our typical web-browsing experience is haphazard. On pages 1-10 of my virtual book at (say) 08.12.2008 at 7pm, I am reading on financial analysis, then I turn the page to read many pages of email. Some of these pages, I skim quickly, others I rip right out the virtual book, and others I invest in - that email from my sister, for example. Then I start scribbling in the virtual book: I am replying to my sister (the virtual book has blank pages). Then, I turn the page and I am reading a few pages of news. Then, it is back to financial analysis, although now I am much less attentive, so I jump through to a link on the side containing a book review, and so on and on.
We obviously cannot eliminate the disjointed, disconnected nature of our computer activities. Let's call it "responsive mode". "Responsive mode" is our default online mode: a scatterbrain-type mode in which we're doing a dozen things an hour. (By the way, have you noted the irony of being disconnected in the connected universe of the internet?)
A unique, customised virtual book
This virtual book is even more powerful than most books. I made all the decisions on its contents. Imagine if you were holding a book and then as soon as you didn't like where a page was going, you ripped it out. That's what we do online, we skip the post/page.
With a real book, you're stuck with its fixed content. If you're on page 50, you still have pages 51-300 ahead of you, and their structure and content is fixed. The pages of your virtual book are changing dynamically: totally dependent on your priorities and snap judgments.
It is possible that a two-hours burst of web-browsing is equivalent to a small virtual book: about the size of say Machiavelli's The Prince. And unlike The Prince, which you may feel disgusted by and put down right away, your virtual book is responsive to your needs, so you do end up reading all through it.
My virtual book moment
Today, between 6pm and 9pm, I was browsing through some of the RSS feeds to which I subscribe. I followed some interesting posts to their respective blogs and followed links from one article to another, trying to focus on my topic. Because I wanted to read the articles well, I printed them out too.
At the end of this intense browsing session, I found I had used about 300 sheets of paper. The stack of articles could easily have been a book.
That's when I realised that in three hours, I had read, or skimmed through, a book 200-300 pages long.
I realised that the hours I fritter away add up to tomes. I sit infront of my computer everyday and read at least one 'virtual book'. I tend to lessen the weight of stuff I read online - in the sense that, psychologically, I don't feel I have studied and pondered something well enough unless I've read it in print form.
In fact, I do study and ponder online. We all do. We spend bursts of time, every day, being Virtual Book Editor - VBE (you may put that on your business card, and link to my blog while you're at it). We ought to acknowledge this editorial role we carry out when we're reading up on something; give it the respect it deserves.
Questions to readers
- I am particulary intrigued by the uniqueness of each virtual book. It totally depends on the time frame, our circumstances, the context. You could go on the same journey tomorrow and be editor of a different book. Isn't that interesting? And also troubling?
- The unit of reading in real books is pages. With virtual books, the unit is paragraphs. Sometimes, just headlines. Do you agree?
- We flip pages in real books. With virtual books, we follow links. What does this tell us?
- A great RSS-feed-to-pdf converter - get your RSS feeds in magazine format.
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