Thursday, March 09, 2006

The 90% Solution

The 90% Solution

I remember when I was young, I possessed great patience when it comes to reading. I didn't mind reading books which I barely understood; the mere act of holding a book, turning its crisp pages, and trying to grasp the meaning of every sentence was in itself a great pleasure. Difficult books never turned me off. I would plough through every page dilligently, from cover to cover, simply because I was enthralled by the act of reading itself. The ability to read was to me a privilege and a blessing.

If someone were to dump me on a desert island with a sufficient supply of books, I think I'll be able to survive quite happily there. I don't read to acquire knowledge; reading to me is simply one of the greatest pleasures in life. And a relatively cheap one too compared to some of our other material indulgences.

We often think of books as being expensive; but that is simply because we treat them as disposable items, to be used once and discarded. I don't see it that way, books are life-time companions. What you read is part of your life's experience. Books are your memory banks. You can pull them out from the shelves, and relive your favourite moments anytime. To throw them away is to erase a part of your soul.

These days, reading is becoming a bit of a strain to my eyes because I spend a disproportionate amount of my waking hours sitting in front of the computer screen. I have to resort to audiobooks to give my tired eyes a rest. Still I'd always try to find time, either sitting at a cafe, mamak stall or propped up in bed, with a good book for company--reading the old-fashioned way. I call that a book date.

Contrary to popular belief, most Malaysians are actually fond of reading; just that they have a preference for light stuff, like newspapers or magazines, especially when its free. Reading newspapers, like surfing the Net, does not demand prolonged concentration. People do have a natural curiosity for knowledge--provided that it doesn't require a lot of hardwork. They will only read something if it is served in convenient bite-sized portions.

Sitting immobile with a dead tree book, scanning line after line of monotonous text is certainly not a fun and exciting thing to do. Furthermore there's the extra effort required in visualizing in one's mind what the author is trying to describe. That's awful hard work.

It's certainly more fun watching TV or going on a chat session with a stranger online or texting friends on your handphone. The attention span of the young, fed on satellite TV and music videos, is getting shorter and shorter. We are so used to having a fresh stimulus every second. Sooner or later we will have to teach our schoolchildren how to concentrate, in addition to reading and writing.

Perhaps it's alright. Times have changed. People's behaviour and lifestyle evolve. Children today can pick up things a lot faster. Look at how at ease they are with computers and electronic gadgets. Children are getting smarter.

Or are they really?

With the overload of information and stimulus that we are receiving, are we actually producing better minds? Can we produce quality thoughts without the ability to concentrate? Are our minds so brilliant now that we require only split seconds to make quality decisions? Or are we simply mistaking superficiality for brilliance?

I don't know. I see evidence of superficiality everywhere. What scares me is that many people don't seem to recognize the fact that they are only using a small portion of their minds. If that 10% is already sufficient for them to appear "brilliant", imagine what they can do if they only know how to tap the other 90%.

How do we discover that remaining 90%?
Go read a book.