Do your reading in a calm environment. If you need quiet, find a quiet space, or use noise-canceling headphones. Some people prefer the white noise of a coffee shop, which you can now access online. But avoid working in any location where you can hear the distinct words of a conversation.
However, if you really want to eliminate distractions while reading, you should seriously consider getting away from your computer.
In his breakthrough article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Nicholas Carr suggests that researching and reading online weakened his ability to read. On his computer, he
faced web ads, electronic notifications, and the constant urge to jump to a new link. All these distractions made it harder for him to focus—even when he shifted to reading a physical book!
Other research suggests that reading on a computer harms the mind:
- One study found that students who read texts on a computer took longer to master the information.
- According to Scientific American, “screens may…drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done .”
- The same article notes that “getting away from multipurpose screens improves concentration.”
- The same article adds that when people read on computers, they don’t try as hard; they tend to look for shortcuts and skim.
- One fascinating study made students responsible for managing their own study time; the ones who used a physical book “scored about 10 percentage points higher” on a test than the ones who read from a computer screen.
Fortunately, there’s help. When reading web pages, remove ad clutter with apps like Instapaper or the Chrome extension Just Read. Or just print out the pages that you want to read.
Discourage your kids from reading books on the iPad or the laptop. These devices are full of distractions. Instead, encourage them to use physical books, a Kindle, or an electronic device not stocked with games, alerts, and apps. (Sometimes it’s a good investment to print copies of online readings and store the pages in a binder.) In addition, I highly recommend devoting money to book purchases. A shelf of books is a tempting resource for a bored child. Generally, a family with hundreds of books on the shelves will have children who read well. Just $15 a month in book purchases, especially if you buy used copies, adds up to hundreds of books over 15 years.
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