Do you need a quiet place to read?
Hats off to Laura Miller at Salon for this post:
That’s not because I particularly endorse the admonition in the headline. It’s for catching something which hadn’t stood out to me in the recent
Miller observes, that, in what people value about public libraries
“”Quiet study spaces for adults and children” comes in fourth, and here is where the results go rogue. The percentage of people who consider quiet spaces to be a very important element in any public library is 76, only one percentage point less than the value given to computer and Internet access. A relatively silent place to read is almost exactly as valuable to these people as the Internet!”
That one fascinates me, because it’s the opposite of how I read.
I prefer to be in a noisy environment. I want to read with the TV on in the background, or in a crowded and noisy restaurant.
Now, I know that’s not how most people feel, and the Pew survey demonstrates that to some extent. I say to “some extent” because the question isn’t just about reading, but about study, which could be different.
It’s more important for me to have a data rich environment when I am studying than when I am reading for pleasure (although studying is a pleasure for me…but I digress).
I remember when our kid (now an adult) was first starting to do serious studying for school. My Significant Other said (and I’m paraphrasing): “Should we allow music during the studying?” I said, “How can the kid study without music?”
That concept actually baffled me. I couldn’t imagine studying for school while in the low-tech equivalent of an isolation booth.
I want something else happening…so I don’t get bored with the studying. The studying doesn’t take up my full attention, typically. I’m understanding and remembering it all with only part of my mind. If there isn’t already something going on in the environment, I’ll look for something…and that’s a distraction.
I was explaining this to a class once (of highly educated adults), and somebody said to me, “Is that like attention deficit?” I replied, “No, it’s more like attention surplus.” I have “more attention” available than the work can occupy. It’s not that I can’t keep paying attention to the work…it’s that I want to pay attention to that and to something else.
I want to put up a sign that says, “People are trying to work…please make some noise.”
Now, I’ve heard from people over and over again about how humans can’t really multitask. While I won’t debate the mechanics of what is happening (are successful multitaskers really just very good at switching back and forth rapidly and repeatedly), I’ve found that about fifteen percent of people are good at having two things happening at once.
With that group, if you stop them from being on the internet while you are teaching, they aren’t going to learn it.
The problem arises because a lot more than fifteen percent of people think they are in that group, when they really aren’t.
Not too long ago, they asked us not to use our computers while we were in a recurring team meeting…that lasts basically a whole day. It was nice that they asked if anybody had a problem with that, and I explained that I did. There would be little point in my being in the meeting if I couldn’t be doing something else at the same time, since I wouldn’t absorb any of it. I was the only person to say that, by the way. Oh, and I am perhaps the most participatory person in the meeting in those situations (one of the top three, I’d say), while I’m checking my e-mail.
The solution in that case was for me to take the minutes (and fortunately, I’m good at that). That gives me something else to do, and that certainly helps.
I am not saying that this is superior. I think it’s connected in some ways to my having quite a lengthy process to get to sleep, and to waking up slowly. I am very envious of my Significant Other’s ability to just announce a twenty minute nap, and then be up, active, and refreshed twenty-two minutes later! It takes me that long just to get to sleep (although I now have the process down so it isn’t difficult, it’s still a complicated procedure).
It’s just different.
So, I was curious about you.
I realize some of you would pick all three of these answers: try to do the one that’s true the most often:
I’m also puzzled when people seem to think that having multiple things happening around you at once is a modern development. I’ve never understood that. If you were painstakingly making a stone knife in the Paleolithic Age and weren’t constantly aware of rustles in the tall grass, and movement behind the rocks, you’d never get a chance to use your fancy high-tech artificial fang.
I think we’re likely to have evolved to work on one task while paying attention to what is happening around us.
This “Cone of Silence” idea for studying? That just seems very artificial.
That people rate it nearly as highly as having internet access while in a library is surprising to me. Oh, it’s cool when I’m in a library and it’s all quiet…I think in part because that makes it a different environment than what I normally encounter. I suppose a laser light show might have a similar sense of “altered reality” for me.
For those of you who like the quiet (and again, my guess is that’s the vast majority of people), have you ever gone to the library just to have that around you? Do you ever go in, find a quiet spot, lean back, lace your fingers behind your neck, close your eyes, and just soak it all in? I’m sure people must.
Maybe we should have “quiet booths” on the street, where you could just go in there and shut everything else out. Of course, those would inevitably be used for activities some would consider unsavory.
Say, I do remember that in The Jungle, a sort of giant Habitrail for kids, they did have a quiet room for parents! You’d be there for a birthday party, and two hundred kids were yelling and screaming and getting stuck on a platform because they were afraid to go down a tunnel, and you could just go somewhere else and let the employees deal with it. I do think people read in there…when we were going, we didn’t carry the internet with us.
What do you think? How important is quiet to you when you read? Is it natural to prefer focus and exclusion when studying? Is it a reason why you go to the library? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.
Oh, and I do recommend the post I linked at the start of this article…just read it quietly.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.