How To Stop Being A Serial Scanner And Dare To Dive Deep

Dive Deep
image: Ars Electronica

When we were kids, the only kind of bookmarks we knew of were the paper, card, or neatly embroidered gift from your daughter/ Grandmother/ best friend type we used for marking our place in the latest book we were reading.

Now though, the term bookmark is more likely to be used as a verb, describing the way we save a page or site online that we intend to come back to.

The problem is, most of us bookmark as if there’s an unlimited amount of bookmarks available to us. And an unlimited amount of pages to come back to.

Well, um, yes, there is.

But when we get into a state of almost obsessively serial bookmarking a handful of sites every day that we plan to come back to and read in depth later, “when we have time”, the end result is nothing but more and more overload, and a feeling of gently slipping under and drowning beneath an ever approaching tide of information.

How many pages do you curently have bookmarked to come back to, at a guess? Five? 10? 100? 500?

This process is incredibly similar to the way that many of us artists begin projects.

We have a gorgeous, sparkling new idea, that feels at the time like the most important (and exciting) thing in the world we could be spending our time on. So we drop all other projects, and throw ourselves in head- and heart- first.

Pretty soon though, because we’re so easily seduced some other bright new idea, we get lured away again, and the pattern continues.

What’s the main problem here?

It’s the fact that we don’t commit to one project. We never go far below the surface. We rarely go beyond getting the tips of our toes wet. We never dive in deep.

Let’s switch back to our bookmarking analogy for a moment, and think about what typically happens.

You find what sounds like an excellent article, begin reading, and although you’re enjoying it, you realise it’s going to take maybe 10 minutes to read properly and absorb.

So maybe you don’t feel you have 10 minutes right now, so you bookmark the article and seek out something else that’s equally tasty, but a slightly smaller bite.

Another article appears from one of your various streams and sources for finding such inspiration, and you begin reading. But as you get a little way into it, you wonder if maybe you should’ve stuck with that first one.

The extra couple of minutes you spent finding this new article could have been invested in the original post. You may have had that 10 minutes after all. But not now.

It doesn’t end there. As you’re reading article number two, you’re aware your time is running out, and wonder if an even smaller bite size of an article would be better to digest right now.

So you bookmark this second article, and seek out something that’s equally tasty, but a slightly smaller bite. Oh, haven’t we been here

On your further travels you find what sounds like a very detailed and engaging article, but one that spans a few thousand words, so you know it’ll take you longer than you have right now. So, yep, you bookmark it for later, and continue with your scanning.

Is this sounding at all familiar?

It certainly is to me.

Again, turning our attention back to our creative ideas and subsequent projects, and we find the same happens. We find reasons to not stick with just one – and worse than this we don’t ever let ourselves become fully immersed in just one idea or project, instead forever alert and scanning for (even hoping for?) a dazzling new idea to lure us away, one that might be a little better, and little easier, a little more perfect.


Let’s throw out this old behaviour and propose a new alternative.

What if you found one article that sounded very intriguing from the title, and was by a writer you often enjoyed and respected. So you open that one, single article. You shut off everything else. Maybe to make this happen you actually print off the article, close your computer and sit down, paper in hand, and give those printed words your full undivided attention.

Maybe you even read it a few times through, getting as much as you can, really connecting. After all, the writer most likely put a lot of themselves into this work and wrote and published in the hope that others would give it a chance to connect with them as deeply as possible.

Following this kind of process, instead of the serial scanning and bookmarking we described before, just how much more are you going to enjoy what you read?

How much more are you going to engage with the work?

How much more are you going to give a fellow artist the opportunity to communicate with you on a deep level?

I would suggest a great deal more.

All of those other potentially deliciously bookmarkable articles and sites are still out there. It’s just that you made the conscious, deliberate choice to devote your precious time and attention to just one.

Let’s shift this back to our ideas and projects.

What if you picked just one project to work on and put all others out of sight?

Just for a couple of days. Even just for a couple of hours.

Just how much more focused would you be? How much more would you be giving to your work? And, subsequently, how much more would your audience be gaining from your extra commitment and devotion?

It works both ways, for the artist and the audience.

Whether we’re creating art, or consuming art, it pays incredible dividends to go deep, to give our full attention to just one thing. To give ourselves the opportunity to fully connect with all we have, not to skim, scan and paddle, but to take a deep breath and truly dive in.

How can you make the conscious decision to dive deeper, both in your own work, and in the way you absorb the work of others?

How can you stop this endless shallow, frantic bookmarking, and actually start connecting and engaging again?


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4 thoughts on “How To Stop Being A Serial Scanner And Dare To Dive Deep”

  1. I personally wouldn’t thing of stopping reading a longer article in order to read a shorter and a shorter one, though I do like to scatter shorter projects among my long ones. In school we also tend to have maybe a term project going while still having daily work at hand.
    But I wanted to add something, a habit some people have that they may enjoy but could shed if they want to be more productive themselves. There are people who become quite enamored of a particular author or message and then read every word that person writes even if it is the same thing over and over again. This might be a novelist who always seem to be writing the same story or a political pundit who honestly says the same thing over and over and over…
    I suppose there may for some be a psychological need to read the same thing over and over (maybe it makes the point seem more valid somehow) but there is the alternative of exposing oneself to more variety of ideas.


    1. Thanks for your thoughts Fritzie. As always, your comments spark my mind of in half a dozen directions!

      People who I read a lot of (like the currently only nine blogs I now follow by RSS and read every post of) do tend to be evolving continually along their own paths anyway, so whilst they have regular themes that become ever more honed, they’re not just rehashing the same ideas and words over and over. It’s interesting and stimulating to read not only their work, but to be see their own personal evolution too. But yes I have read authors in the past where after two or three books, they seem to sound the same, and there are certainly many artists that fall in the same camp.

      It is a dilemma for both the artist and the audience – the balance between continually evolving, but whilst always sounding yourself, using your own voice. Two music artists that in my opinion have probably done this better than any other in recent history are David Bowie and Radiohead. They always sound “them”, but both have evolved tremendously in the sound of their work. And managed to sell millions of records in the process!

      Definitely agree about opening one’s self to new ideas and voices too, but to give those voices a chance to really resonate, rather than skim the first few lines and decide they’re not for us.

      It’s always a dilemma, our attention and time is the most precious commodity we have, so we should spend it wisely. I personally find a balance in between (in terms of what I read) – a variety that’s small enough that I give each person and their work the focus it deserves.


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