fine-tuning my reading experience.
Reading is an experience that I have enjoyed throughout my entire life. However, as I have gotten busier, I have just been reading before I go to bed in order to rewind and take my mind off of the day that had just passed. For me, it is almost a form of meditation along with entertainment. Throughout this project, I would love to find ways to optimize my reading experience to foster a deeper understanding of the novel, enjoy the experience more, and overall find new ways to consume a form of media that I love so much.
phase i: observe
As stated before, recently I have only been reading before bed. However, I find that while I do this, I am not absorbing everything that the book has to offer because I am thinking about what tomorrow still holds, along with battling off sleep. When I sit down and read, I always want it to be a time where I can unplug from the business of everyday life and let my mind wander.
I decided to document and analyze every step of my before-bed reading experience so that I can find exactly how to improve the experience.
When I lay down to read for the evening, I will pay specific attention to:
- what time do I start reading?
- am I comfortable?
- is my mind wandering, or am I involved in the story?
- do I feel more relaxed when I finish reading?
- where am I reading?
- do I comprehend what I am reading when I begin to nod off?
let’s see what the process looks like:
- choose the book
When I lay down at night to read, it is the last step in my night-time routine. I am already showered, packed for the next day, and simply ready to fall asleep. I am in my pajamas, and I walk over from my closet to my bookshelf to grab my book of choice feeling clean and relaxed.
I now have to decide which world to immerse myself in before I drift off to sleep. I can grab a book that I have already started, or I can start a new novel. I also have to decide between an easy read or a more informative and educational closing to my day.
None of the novels that I am in the process of reading seemed interesting to me. Tonight, I decided to pick up a new book and read Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. It is a pretty easy read, but it is also a feel-good novel, something that I needed at the close of a busy first week of classes.
Now that I have made all of the decisions surrounding the choice of the book, I make sure my fan is on (because it gets hot in the dorm rooms) and switch on the lamp above my desk. I always keep my pencil case on the ledge of my bed, because it is near my desk, and also my bed for when I read at night.
Now that I have all of the physical components in place, I crawl into bed and grab my throw blanket. I lay with my feet to the head of the bed because the lamp from my desk does not emit enough light for me to lay the correct way, and toss my blanket over myself.
By this point in the night, it is 11:30 pm and I am already very drowsy. I now set my book in front of me and prop my head up with my hands. Before I open the book, I have to decide if I want to mark up the book while I’m reading. I eventually decide not to because it is not a book that I want to “study”. With this information in mind, I go into the book with fewer expectations and in a more light-hearted mindset.
As I open the book, I wonder if I made the wrong decision to start a new book. It feels a bit overwhelming at a time when I am just wanting to relax. Nonetheless, I begin to read.
The story immediately draws me in, and the light imagery puts me in a better mood. I read for about 10 minutes before my neck begins to hurt from propping my head upon my hands. I turn onto my side and try to hold the book up beside me. I continue to read like that for about 5 more minutes before I switch back to my original position. After around 20 minutes of reading, my mind starts to wander thinking about what I need to get done tomorrow. By this point, I am also starting to drift off to sleep, and the story is starting to escape me. By 12:10 am, I set my book on my bedside ledge, switch off my lamp, lay the correct way in my bed, and go to sleep.
When I wake up the next morning, I realize that I haven’t fully absorbed what I read the night before. Although I made it 30 pages into the book, I cannot recall the last 10 pages because I was half asleep while reading them. While this does mean that I fell asleep relatively quickly (for myself at least), it does force me to sacrifice my reading time in order to fall asleep faster.
phase ii- expand/contract
After exploring my routine in phase one, there were two main issues I ran into:
- I was not comprehending what I was reading to the fullest extent
- I was falling asleep while reading, not after
From here, I wanted to brainstorm ways to remedy these problems while still keeping the aspects of my routine that I enjoy.
To brainstorm, I simply wrote down as many different ways to change my routine for the better.
As you can see above, after I dumped all of my ideas onto my miro board, I organized them into four categories:
- a nudge to change my environment
- a nudge that changes the time of my routine
- a nudge to change the way that I read
- a nudge that adds a step/new element
After I organized all of the different possibilities, I knew that I wanted to choose two nudges: one that will keep me awake, and one that will help for comprehension.
I wanted to keep one of the nudges simple, so I chose to read anywhere but my bed. Because this nudge is so obvious, I wanted to choose a more abstract/creative nudge to help with my reading comprehension. Instead of simply writing a summary of the book every night, I chose to draw a quick 10-second doodle at the end of every page. That way I can flip through the “visual summary” in the morning to get a more comprehensive review of what I read the night before.
Now that I have my nudges chosen, I drew out the steps that I need to take in order to bring them to life.
executing the plan:
After I focused on everything that I want to achieve by “nudging” my routine, it was time to actually test the changes. Every night after I got ready for bed, I would sit at my desk and read with my sketchbook. I did this from the 7th through the 13th, so I was able to experiment for a total of 7 days.
The less exciting aspect of this experiment was changing up my reading location. Instead of reading on my bed, I challenged myself to read anywhere else. This was not a hard transition, especially considering most nights I resulted to reading at my desk- less than 1 foot away from my bed.
While this change does not sound drastic, I found that simply changing the posture of the activity put me in a more “academic” mindset. Instead of laying in my bed- a place associated with sleeping, I moved to my desk- a place where I am used to being a work-only-zone.
This change in and of itself allowed me to read without falling asleep in the middle of the page but still helped me wind down after a long day. However, the real change came in the next step.
The second change in my routine was the one that I was the most excited to pursue. I had originally wanted to simply write a quick summary at the end of every page that I could read as a re-cap the next morning, but I realized that in doing so I would be adding so much time to my routine. Instead, (ty Cam for the idea), I decided to draw a quick 10-second doodle at the end of every page. This does not add much time to my reading experience at all, but I found that it changed it completely.
After the first night, I simply found that I was comprehending the book so much better. When I looked at the visual summary the next morning, I found that I was able to explain every single picture in the context of the book, allowing me to remember even the smallest details of my reading the night before.
After I found so much improvement on just the first night- I decided to track my comprehension on a scale from 1–5 to make sure that I was able to quantify the improvement. To do this, I would re-open my summary the morning after and see if I could explain every single picture and how it pertains to the book.
As you can see, I had great success every night in recalling information from the night before. This was in part due to the fact that I wasn’t getting as sleepy while reading, but it was mainly because of my visual summary.
the unexpected benefits:
I knew that making a summary of some sort would help, but I had no clue just how efficient a visual summary would be.
For example, instead of writing:
Anne’s adopted mother and father have never had a child before, let alone a girl. This means that Anne will be a form of parental experimentation for her new parents. They are both very nervous but excited about this new journey.
I can simply draw a test tube. When I see that test tube, my mind immediately goes to the word “experiment”, which leads me to the sentence above. So instead of spending three minutes writing a couple of sentences at the end of each page, I simply spend 10–20 seconds drawing a little doodle and I am able to get so much more information out of it.
The most unexpected outcome of my journey was noticing that it was allowing me to become better at condensing a whole block of text into one single sketch. I was able to read 300 words and within 10 seconds of processing, pick out the most memory-jogging piece, and find out how to symbolize it.
This did take some practice, but I found that as the days went by, this skill was becoming easier and easier. I was able to come up with more abstract symbols that encompassed the main idea of the whole page instead of one piece of imagery.
I was able to get so much more out of this experiment than I was expecting. First of all, I did achieve my goal of
- not falling asleep before I wanted to
2. being able to recall what I read the next night
This itself was a large accomplishment for me. However, I was able to meld together my love for literary analysis with my creative interpretation skills to completely alter my reading experience for the better.
phase iii- transform
After digging deeper into the psyche of reading comprehension, I wanted to understand the history and overarching this topic. After I dove headfirst into researching, I thought about ways that reading and comprehension might manifest in the future, eventually creating a speculative design.
In an attempt to hone in on my research, I decided to focus on reading comprehension in the United States, as well as doing some additional research on the impact of symbols on memory.
the history of literature and the evolution of modern reading
Humans have been reading since 4000 BCE. However, reading has evolved to become a completely different activity over the years. As civilization has advanced, so has reading. We now can listen to books being read, read on our phones, and of course, read a physical book. However, reading for pleasure has been on a mass decline. A study conducted from 2003–2017 reveals that in this time span, the percentage of Americans who read for pleasure fell from an already measly 26.3% to 19%, a 7% decrease.
While this significant decrease is not surprising because of the surge of new methods of entertainment over these years, it prohibits the general population from gaining the many benefits that come with reading regularly.
the benefits of reading
Before I got too far into my research, I asked myself why it is so important for reading to be a common and understood practice. There are some obvious benefits such as expanding your vocabulary and helping you to relax, however, there are some deeper and more astonishing physical and emotional benefits to reading.
The most interesting emotional effect that I found is that reading fiction helps the reader to develop a stronger sense of empathy. For example, if I, a white woman living in America read a book about an orphaned girl in Ethiopia, I will be able to gain insight into a life that I never would have been able to get such a close look at.
Now that I know more about the general benefits of reading, I zoomed in and researched the specific benefits that arise when reading before bed. It turns out, that when you are fully immersed in a book, you are entering an “altered state of consciousness, an action that allows you to reduce stress by more than 68%. This calming effect is more impactful than drinking a warm cup of tea or listening to relaxing music.
While simply reading for pleasure is a feat in itself, the act of comprehending a block of text adds another difficult layer on top. Forcing your mind to engage in an activity that is so foreign to a modern society literally rewires your brain. Instead of passively entertaining yourself to relieve stress, striving to comprehend literature forces you to actively engage your imagination and problem-solving skills.
In fact, exercising your reading comprehension skills actually rewires your brain. Harvard Professor Joseph Henrich explains the long term effects that reading comprehension has in a scientific manner by stating:
This renovation has left you with a specialized area in your left ventral occipital temporal region, shifted facial recognition into your right hemisphere, reduced your inclination toward holistic visual processing, increased your verbal memory, and thickened your corpus callosum, which is the information highway that connects the left and right hemispheres of your brain.
In a world that is so focused on a mindless activity (something that is needed at times), striving to improve reading comprehension literally changes your anatomy for the better.
the picture superiority effect
When it comes to reading comprehension, there are many ways that different types of people choose to enrich their comprehension. Most of these tactics are mentioned in my “nudge graph” in phase ii. Most of the time, reading comprehension is talked about through the lens of words. For example, writing a summary of what you read, or improving your vocabulary. While this is important, it is not the most efficient or effective way to think about it.
A picture is worth a thousand words
The above quote is something that has been said over and over again, but I have never given it much thought. However, the picture superiority effect explains it perfectly.
In fact, when we read information, we will only remember 10% of it 3 days later. However, if you add images to this text, you will be able to remember 65% of the information 3 days later.
To put it into an even crazier perspective, scientists believe that humans can process images 60,000 times faster than the text of similar meaning.
All of this information explains exactly why I was so in awe of how well my visual summary aided in my reading comprehension.
so what even is reading and comprehension?
To put it into simple abstract ideas, reading and comprehension can be encapsulated as:
- a mind exercise
- a superiority complex
- mind opening
How can these ideas change the future?
When it came to thinking about how I can turn this routine into a speculative design, I wasn’t sure if I should focus on reading, comprehension, or meld them together. To get all of my thoughts out, I brain-dumped some ideas onto Miro.
After dumping all of my ideas out, I decided to choose a design that combines both reading and comprehension. Further, I wanted to explore a concept that compliments my nudge and draws on the research pertaining to imagery. With this in mind, I decided to create a future where a headset exists that is able to read your mind and curates a video of the images that you form while reading. I wanted to ponder if this would increase the incentives for people to fully understand the book that they are reading, or if it would make people read lazily.
To fully envision this I created a storyboard to bring this future to life.
After spending four weeks exploring the act of reading and understanding, I realized that reading is what one makes of it.
I read, for one, to relax before bed. It allows me to escape my everyday stress through imaginary worlds. Further, it enables me to intimately learn about diverse lifestyles that I cannot personally experience.
I also use reading to exercise my brain and increase focus. By unplugging my brain from technology and pursuing an activity that does not allow multitasking, it keeps my attention span in shape.
Other people might simply read for relaxation or for entertainment. Some people may read a book because a movie based on it is coming out soon. The bottom line is, as long as people are reading, it doesn’t matter what the motivation is behind it.