In today’s fast-paced world (because apparently that’s a phrase that can still be used despite being what I assume to be decades old), it is difficult to hold someone’s attention for more than a matter of seconds. I wasn’t even sure there was an audience for my writing on here because I tend to stay away from short content; thankfully, I was wrong.
If I am going to write something and put time in revising and editing, I want there to be something substantial to show for it. However, there are countless blogs and websites that have more followers and clicks because they stick with short posts that fit into people’s limited attention spans. If reading long articles online barely keeps someone preoccupied, how can reading books for fun even compete in this age of micro-attention?
People comment on the fact that I read so much and I worry that I might come off as pretentious because I don’t watch a lot of television or spend as much time on my devices; I often tell my mom to read a book when she complains that nothing is on T.V. (talk about a role reversal). Those who comment usually follow up with the statement, “I want to read more, I just don’t have time.”
This feeling of lacking time to devote to reading has a very obvious source. I have a personal issue with reality television and any entertainment that has to do with tabloid journalism or the media commenting on the personal habits of celebrities or prominent figures. This mainstream voyeurism is truly startling when we take a step back and actually look at what we are doing. While I understand and acknowledge the appeal of watching television or staring at our phone/computer screens, I simply feel too guilty knowing that there is so much more in the world to experience.
Like many bloggers, I enjoy writing and an integral part of writing well is being an avid reader. In addition to reading a lot, Neil Gaiman (one of my favorite authors) believes that those who wish to write need to make time to be bored. In a post on his personal blog, he writes that in order for us to be creative, we need a space away from distractions in which our minds can wander. Can you be inspired by a movie you saw or an article online? Of course; but constant stimulation is not conducive to creating.
I think one of the best ways to be bored and still enjoy the experience is to sit and listen to music. I personally have begun collecting vinyl over the last four years (yes, yes, I’m a hipster; let’s move on) because I find it is a good way not only to listen to music that I love but also to sit and let my mind wander. Listening to records is a bit more involved than simply putting a playlist on my iPod or computer in the background while I read or surf the web, so it allows me to focus and ponder simultaneously in a way that forces me to be present.
Being present is also something we need to work on as humans in this age of technology. It is important to remember that the tradition of literature spans centuries and it has continued to flourish into this age of technological wonder. Its survival is linked with our ability as humans to feel empathy and to connect with others. We seem to feel the need to share everything online but this is only a surface attempt at human connection. A lot of people recognize and understand this, yet we keep going around and around sharing the jokes of someone else or repeating the latest headlines.
This compulsive need to share makes choosing to read similar to stopping an addiction (I quit smoking four years ago, so I have an inkling of what its like). Kicking the habit of T.V. or the internet is just like quitting smoking or any other addiction in that it has to be the conscious decision of the person to change their habits.
No amount of goodwill on behalf of those we love will get us through to finally abstaining from the torrent of time wasting activities we are bombarded with. I have a coworker whose daughter wants to learn how to play guitar, but she feels she doesn’t have the time to devote to practice. I also struggle with this because I have to make time to read for this blog and somehow practice playing guitar outside of that otherwise I will lose my ability. It is how we choose to spend our free time that defines who we are and what we hold to be important.
I don’t mean to come off as saying what is right for me is right for everyone, nor do I claim to use all of my free time productively; I am simply trying to explain my decision to devote much of the time given to me to reading. As I said in my editorial about Literary Elitism, I think that a lot of us who choose read or study English get a bad rep because there is a stereotype that we want to feel superior and choose to do so by being well read. This isn’t the case; we just like to read. I encourage everyone I know to read as much as they can and hopefully reading this will convince a few more to do so as well.