Imagine you are asked to take notes on everything you read on the web.
Jesuit professor Jeremias Drexel recommended such a practice for reading in the 17th century. As Ann Blair mentions,
[I]n his regimen there is no reading without taking notes, which would be idle and vain, and no time wasted because every free moment can be put to use reading over one’s notes.
While reasonable with print, the task strikes one as quixotic on the web. Why? Because of the sheer immensity of what we read. You might as well take notes while being pummeled by water from a fire hose. Virginia Heffernan put it succinctly in her book Magic and Loss:
With media, books, texts, and emails on mobile devices people are never not reading. We read while we're socializing, working, shopping, relaxing, walking, commuting, urinating. From a nation that couldn't stop eating, we've become a nation that can't stop reading. As day follows night, our current form of overconsuming might be overreading. Hyperlexia.
The goal of Drexel's regimen is to retain what one reads and to use it in study. I can barely remember what I looked at on the Internet yesterday. There might have been something useful, but searching through my History tab would be a lost cause. Our memory falls under the weight of words proliferated on the web. It doesn't matter if they come from an enlightened essay or an inane social media status.
So we have to ask ourselves how to remember what we read here on the web – how to retain what is beneficial and use it in our study and in our lives. I wonder if we even realize what we are missing out on. The only thing that gets measured is how much new content gets published on the web every day. But do we know how much of that potential energy is wasted on taxed minds who will forget what they read moments after?
There has to be a better way.