söndag 24 april 2011

On my nerdiness

This is an introspective text.

I don't think I read enough academic literature when I was a ph.d. student. Sure, I read quite some now and then, but the problem, as I identified it later, was that I read quite some now and then, but at other times I didn't read very much at all. So, on average, I'm not sure that that much got read. After having finished my ph.d. I worked in industry for a while, and when I went back to academia, I felt that I needed some new reading habits and I devised a scheme that rested on three principles:

- Read an average of 50 pages of academic literature every day (seven days per week).
- Pick out a package of 10 next-to-read books according to allocated quotas (1 out of 10 books is a ph.d. thesis, 3 out of 10 books is fiction etc.)
- Keep track of how many books I read, and buy three new books for every four books I read (I had a stock of about 100 unread non-fiction books at the time).

I more or less followed these three rules for a period of several years, although I fiddled a little with them now and them. In terms of "academic literature", books, academic papers, student assignments or master's thesis drafts all counted towards the 50 pages. Fiction counted as half. I kept track of how much I read and I actually did read 350 pages of text each week (by reading on the subway and then also for an additional hour or so in the evening).

In the end, and after having our second child, it proved to be a little too much. I abandoned the system, but later devised a new system that is a little bit less stressful:

- Read 25 pages of non-fiction/scientific books each weekday (for a minimum of 125 pages per week).
- Read 15 pages of fiction each day (for a minimum of 105 pages per week).
- Every second book should be work-related (media, Internet, online communities, social media etc.) and every second book is related to my non-work interests (energy, peak oil, sustainability, climate change etc.).

With this system, around two non-fiction books get read every month and so I have select the new books I buy very carefully. If I only read a dozen books in each category each year, I just can't run out and buy whatever happens to catch my attention right this moment. I also do spend a fair amount of time thinking about which books to buy next and which books to read next (I have books for the next couple of months already lined up, although a book that should be read urgently can jump the queue).

Books in the fiction category has tended to swell in length during the last couple of decades, but if I find a page-turner and finish it in a few days, I don't put reading aside for a month, but rather start to read a new book directly. While it is possible for me to be "behind" in reading fiction, it isn't possible to be "ahead" of the quota as it is "reset" every day.

These rules probably sound reasonably insane to most people, but they do get the job done and they do get the books read. I am sure these rules and my adherence to them says something fundamental about me, but I can't myself figure out exactly what. I think they do have something to do with my need for control, and there are probably some mildly disturbing parallels to monomania, obsessive-compulive distorder, Asperger syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders. Or not. I don't know enough and I'm not so sure I'm that interested in knowing. It's not like I'm going to run out and buy a book about it anyway :-)

I have similarly elaborate systems in place for how to choose, mix and spend time consuming other sources of media such at podcasts and moving images (television, movies etc.). I'll give you just one more example.

I really like the TED talk videos. But despite my liking them, I just didn't watch them that often. I then checked out how many TED talks were published during the last couple of months (I subscribe to them through Itunes) and came to the conclusion that I was lagging and just getting more and more behind all the time. So I set up a new system with rules for watching TED talks:

- I will watch 10 minutes of TED talks per day and keep track of whether I'm ahead or behind (e.g. the status as of today might be "110424 +4", e.g. I'm right on target, or rather, I'm even four minutes ahead of where I "ought to be" today).
- I check out all the TED talks of, let's say, the first quarter of this year and then choose half of them based on the lecturers and the titles that I think sound most interesting.

I'm actually a couple of years behind the running production of TED talks, but I have come to the conclusion that I will eventually catch up I keep to my rule of watching an average of 10 minutes of TED talks per day. If I catch up, I (currently) think that I might go back to all the talks I chose not to watch, and then choose half of them again to watch. I might later throw the remaining 25% of the talks away. I'm not that obsessive and compulsive and I don't have to watch every single one of them...

With my system, TED talks get watched. More specifically, they get watched at a pace of 300 minutes per month. Without the system, my TED talk consumption would be much more random (and most probably much lower).

That's the scope and the state of my nerdiness (see also this previous blog post that touches on the same issues and that complements this text).

Anyway, how weird, or how reasonable are these systems of mine?

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