May 18, 2021

"What accounts for the growing number of octogenarians and beyond who are accomplished and still accomplishing?"

Asks Jane Brody in "A Birthday Milestone: Turning 80!" (NYT). 

The article doesn't really answer the question, not any better than you'd answer it on your own: Maintain your physical and mental well being so you can continue accomplishing, and also get yourself into some line of accomplishment that's intrinsically motivating. Brody names some famous people who are still productive in their field after the age of 80 (but fails to mention Bob Dylan, who's about to turn 80).

Here's a little text from the end of the article, about regrets (which is really a different topic!):

Have I any regrets? I regret taking French instead of Spanish in high school and I keep trying to learn the latter, a far more practical language, on my own. I regret that I never learned to speed-read; whether for work or leisure, I read slowly, as if everything in print is a complex scientific text. Although I’d visited all seven continents before I turned 50, I never got to see the orangutans in their native Borneo or the gorillas in Rwanda. But I’m content now to see them up close on public television....

I thought speed-reading was a hoax. And I think it's best to leave the great apes alone. I'm put off by the elaborate fakery of traveling to Borneo/Rwanda in pursuit of an authentic encounter with orangutans/gorillas. 

And is Spanish a "more practical language" than French? French is as practical to French-speaking people as Spanish is to Spanish-speaking people, I would imagine. I think she doesn't mean Spanish is a "more practical language" but that someone living in America will find it more practical to know Spanish than to know French. One reason for slow reading is that people writing in their first language are not taking the trouble to think about what they are writing.

ADDED: My line of accomplishment is blogging, and I find it continually intrinsically motivating. So though I'm only 70, let me offer some different advice about remaining active while aging. You don't have to keep powering along in the career you chose for yourself decades ago. You can discover something within or adjacent to it that is more purely what inspires you and brings you flow. Then retire and do exactly that. I called blogging a line of "accomplishment," but I'm no longer oriented toward accomplishing anything. I live in the day. A day lived now is as good as a day lived anywhere else in the string of days that is your life. What does it matter how close to the end of the line it is? 

ALSO: From the Wikipedia article "Speed Reading," here's a photo captioned "Jimmy Carter and his daughter Amy participate in a speed reading course":

Do you think they are speed reading? The speed-reading craze got started with President Kennedy. Was he really speed-reading? Skim a few articles on the subject and I think you'll quickly get the main idea: People who claim to speed read are skimming. To read, you have to read all the words in order. You don't have to read. You can go way more quickly by skipping a lot of the words. But even skimming the articles on the subject, you should know you're bullshitting if you call that reading and claim to be "speed reading."

AND: Here's an article by Timothy Noah at Slate, "The 1,000-Word Dash/College-educated people who fret they read too slow should relax. Nobody reads much faster than 400 words per minute":

Studies show that people who read at or above the college level all read at about the same speed when they read for pleasure.... When you factor out the amount of time spent thinking through complex and unfamiliar concepts—a rarity when people read for pleasure—reading is an appallingly mechanical process. You look at a word or several words. This is called a “fixation,” and it takes about .25 seconds on average. You move your eye to the next word or group of words. This is called a “saccade,” and it takes up to about .1 seconds on average. After this is repeated once or twice, you pause to comprehend the phrase you just looked at. That takes roughly 0.3 to 0.5 seconds on average. Add all these fixations and saccades and comprehension pauses together and you end up with about 95 percent of all college-level readers reading between 200 and 400 words per minute, according to Keith Rayner, a psycholinguist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The majority of these college-level readers reads about 300 words per minute....

John F. Kennedy was said to read 1,200 words per minute. The speed-reading huckster Evelyn Wood claimed that a professor boasted of consuming more than 2,500 words per minute “with outstanding recall and comprehension.”... (Speed-reading courses teach skimming, not reading, though most won’t admit that.)...


Ann Althouse said...

TickTock1948 writes:

"I am a graduate of the Evelyn Woods speed reading course which I took at the age of 15 in Washington DC while Kennedy was President. It was one of the worst things I ever did in my entire life. Since then, I read very fast, near 400 words a minute but it has curtailed my enjoyment of literature since I focus on plot, rather than description. Worse yet, it significantly affected my ability to practice law since I miss words when I read and proof reading is a joke. It is nearly impossible unless I read things backwards. That does slow me down, but try it on a 25 page contract."

Ann Althouse said...

I remember being taught in school that there are 3 stages to reading: skim, scan, and study. Sounds like the "speed reading" is the skim and the mistake is believing that if you've skimmed something you've read it.

Ann Althouse said...

Tim writes:

"I consider myself a slow reader and would like to read faster. I have no idea my reading rate, but it takes me a lot longer than I'd like to make my way through a book. I have read of one technique to read faster and it seems promising. When I read, my lips may not be moving, but the voice in my head, the narrator of my relentless internal monologue, is reading out loud and he sets the pace--I read no faster than he recites. I have heard that that is common, but that if you can break the habit--stop saying the words aloud in your head as you read--you are able to read much faster because you can process words much faster. It sounds plausible, but I have not mastered it."

Yes, I have read that. That's not learning to "speed read" but just getting rid of one of the known factors that will slow you down. But you don't need to bother to try to learn to see groups of words at once. You cannot progress to that.

The main way to learn to read faster, I have read, is to read slowly with comprehension. Get better at understanding what you are reading, and that happens by reading carefully — slowly. You will speed up as you get practice understanding things.

Ann Althouse said...

A different Tim writes:

"Well, I used to read for pleasure at 800 to 1000 words per minute. Never thought of it as speedreading, I thought it was normal to check two novels per day out of the school library, read until midnight, sleep till 6, and start over. I had to train myself to leave chapters for the bus ride and the wait in the auditorium in the morning so I was not left with nothing to read. In the 8th grade, we took a reading speed and comprehension test.....I was finished well before the minimum allotted time,and scored 100 percent comprehension. I got faster from there, just from practice. I am down to 3 to 400 wpm now, my eyesight is worse and my mind is not as sharp as it was before the open heart surgery. But I still love to read, and read over 100 books per year. This is a far cry from the 12,000+ books I had read by the time I turned 35, but as I say, I read slower and have a lot of other distractions. I am thankful to the many authors who opened up the mind of a rather introspective rural kid."

Ann Althouse said...

Tina writes:

"In grade school, inexplicably, I was put in a speed reading lab. They put us in a dark room with goggles and machines that spooled one line of text faster and faster and recorded our "progress."

"I must have been in fourth or fifth grade and thought it was ridiculous and not a little bit creepy. Why was I being measured like a test rat instead of actually reading books? Faddish Educratic Idiocy.

"Looking back, the experience of watching the words fly across the screen was like a very primitive form of reading the internet.
This would be 1975 or 6."

That reminds me that my father bought some gizmo that showed words or groups of words quickly and you could make it go faster as you (presumably) progress. It was a handheld thing operated by a spring. This was in the early 60s.

Ann Althouse said...

Jim writes:

“Last Tuesday was my 88th birthday. I was writing engineering software
until I was 81. I interviewed for that job, and got it, when I was 75.
Interviews, to say nothing of jobs, are hard to get when you're up
there. Getting a job is harder than doing it once you have it. The
worst part is that all the guys you worked with, that you could count on
for leads and recommendations, are no longer around.

“Nobody told me that speed reading was a fad. All the engineering
students in my freshman year (1950) were required to take the course.
Engineers have always been notoriously slow readers. Most of the class
were in the 350-500 range at the end of he course, which was a huge
improvement from when they started. I already was reading about 400 wpm
when I started because I grew up in a house full of writers. At one
point I was clocked at 1200 wpm, and I still read fast enough to make
buying hard copies prohibitively expensive. It didn't help with
technical texts, because you have to read one word at a time anyway,
especially when the text says "Thus: " and it takes three pages of
algebra to get to the next line. It helped immensely with the courses
we had to take to make us "well-rounded." People who love words tend to
use a lot more of them than necessary, and to assign them all as
homework for tomorrow”


Ann Althouse said...

Jeff Gee writes:

"When I was in 6th grade (1966-7), my class was visited by a guy I would now tag as a vendor. He projected a story on the pull-down screen using something that looked similar to an overhead projector. The text scrolled down (or maybe up) slowly and most of it was dimly lit, but one line of text at a time was bright and readable. It went faster and faster. By the end, he returned to the original speed, which had seemed impossibly fast and now seemed agonizingly slow. There was no follow up to this. The only reason I remember it at all is the (true!) story, which was about a pilot whose parachute didn't deploy properly when he ejected from his disabled plane. Wind currents and various flukey weather conditions kept him aloft for well over half an hour, in the middle of an electrical storm. It was amazing. It was an excerpt from the book "The Man Who Rode the Thunder" by Wm. Rankin. (I used to see it at school book sales but was never tempted to buy it because I suspected I'd already read the only part I was interested in.)"

Ann Althouse said...

GPM writes:

"Evelyn Woods Speed Reading was a big thing when I was in high school between 1967 and 1971. IIRC, there was at least one joke about it in the Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings parody (which I undoubtedly still have a copy of somewhere), published in 1969 (after I had already read Lord of the Rings). At one point, the school seemed to be promoting what most people would probably think of as grifting these days. At least one of my high school friends did the course. Didn't seem to do much of anything for him. I should perhaps add that when I reread it, quite a few years ago, Bored of the Rings seemed a lot more juvenile than it did when I read it when I was fifteen years old!"