How.We browse

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We browse & we reap

OK, ask it—why say we browse in discussing how we study? Isn't browsing sort of casual; studying really serious. According to Google, to browse means to "survey goods for sale in a leisurely and casual way" and to study means to "devote time and attention to acquiring knowledge on (an academic subject), especially by means of books," and somewhat more generally to "look at closely in order to observe or read."

Google gives us good, ordinary usage, meanings conditioned by current, everyday life. We might wonder why Google thinks that browsing primarily involves goods for sale, but let's skip over that and note how it links study to acquiring knowledge on academic subjects through books. Indeed, most of us encounter study as something that happened, or should have happened but maybe didn't, in our schooling. Even when we did it well, study in schools often seems heavy, a bit oppressive, a chore, something we did because we had to do it, something some times, even often, we wouldn't do because having to do it made little sense to us, relative to other possibilities. Why does the ordinary meaning of study have all these implications?

Think back. Those academic subjects, how did we encounter them? Through our lessons, our assignments, the textbook; prepare this Monday, that Tuesday, the quiz will follow. That's how we, billions of persons, have encountered what it means to study. Let's ask whether that encounter has something unusual, incomplete or limiting in it. In the rest of life, many will continue having to study in much the same way whenever our boss requires a full report tomorrow on whatever his boss requires of him. School sometimes does prepare for the prevailing modes of work. Is that the sum of possibility?

On occasion, a person will get interested in studying something, not prompted by some assignment, but drawn to it out of curiosity, interest, taking it up freely, for its own sake. If we compare that to the typical form of study in schooling, we see that the latter short-circuits much in the process of study. When directed by assignments, study becomes predictable, constrained, orderly, and testable. Our schooling habituates us to bypass the foreplay of study, to limit its passion, to mandate and modulate our engagement in it, to convert it into fungible units that publicly aggregate into an education or career.

In the fullness of life, a person does not spontaneously know to devote time and attention to studying this or that, especially through books. In the fullness of life, one commits time, and directs attention, and acquires books and other cultural resources, through extensive activities that constitute integral parts of a place to study in our lives. It encompasses browsing in a leisurely and casual way, surveying not merely goods for sale, but the possibilities of life. Study, examining life lived for its own sake, starts with browsing -- with surfing the waters of the world, learning to judge the swell, to catch the wave. In real life, lived well, browsing, feeling at ease, slowly getting serious about this or that and having a sense of what comes next: all is essential to good studying.

And the person who browses will find it preparing her to reap. In browsing, we attend lightly to many things, registering possibilities. Rarely do we see a full and fix purpose at first sight. Purpose emerges as we perceive nuances and stake out what's sustainable among alternative paths. All that, browsing makes possible and as purpose firms our prior scoping out the field of possibility then enables us to make choices directing our attention with conviction and verity. Having browsed well, we we reap richly.