The internet and the death of reading

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The first time I came across the internet I was in Aston, Birmingham. An unlikely place to make a life changing discovery, but it was here, circa 1997, in the flat above my sister’s pub, that I discovered currantbun.com, the Sun newspaper’s website of the time.

I had heard of this internet business and was curious to try it. I sat at the computer. Stared at the page, clicked a few things, and within about 20 minutes had concluded that the internet was boring and that there was nothing there. It was over hyped and reminded me of my first experience of smoking a cigarette. Much build up and ultimately unsatisfactory. Interestingly, that first experience was with my sister too.

Just like my smoking journey, I decided to give it another bash some time later. I was planning to move to NZ so needed to find a way of staying in touch with the folks there without the barriers of time differences. Internet could help here, so I got an email address. And I was happy with that. For years I was happy with the internet providing a poste restante service. I didn’t need much else. I had smoking as a hobby and the hole was filled.

It wasn’t until I decided to study for a degree that I started to recreationally use internet. I would spend time “researching” which really meant looking endlessly at Daily Mail sidebar of shame, and playing spider solitaire. Thankfully, painfully slow dial up meant that I could complete my degree as I would soon be tired of waiting for celebrity pictures to load, and would fill the time between, putting a few words to an essay.

Forward to now, when everything I own or what to own is connected or connectable. There is so much to see on the internet. I have moved from the Daily Mail but I remain a top carnivore of content. I read everything. Or at least every article. I want to know every last detail on how to improve my squat depth. I know all the stats of all the fitness trackers. I’m up to the play on Bluetooth headphones,  pretty good on cellphones too, and know that cauliflower can be substitute for pretty much any ingredient (Cauli bacon, anyone?).

But what I couldn’t tell anyone about is the latest book I read because I haven’t read a book in over a year.

As a child, I was one of those kids who was badgered to turn the light out as I couldn’t stop reading.  I would retreat to under the covers with a torch and read until 1 or 2 in the morning. I would read anything that I came across. This carried on throughout my life until the internet took hold. Definitely three years ago I was still reading to the small hours. Falling asleep with a book and then reading just one page more when I woke from a doze. I was in a book club, I read widely and Harry Potter was my guilty pleasure, reading all of the previous books every time a new one came out.

Books still get bought, but they sit forlorn, waiting to be picked up. Each time I think about reading a whole novel my brain starts to hurt, my whole body aches and I feel panicky. It feels like parts of the brain have atrophied, the parts that can hold attention for that long. The brain even struggles to make it to the end of a particularly complicated recipe. My brain went through a similar period soon after having a baby, but soon righted itself when the sleep came back. Now it’s like how I imagine ADHD to be. I get bored, I flit from article to article. I can’t even finish a magazine article and when I make myself try I feel resentful knowing that there is something better out there that demands my attention. It’s not surprising that I started a blog that had a premise of trying new things. Maybe because I had lost the ability to sustain my attention. The only time I read now is on regional aeroplane as there’s no WiFi. But all of those books remain unfinished as I’m only reading them to stop the plane falling out of the sky and once that job is done, I can get on with my unquenchable search for new content. I read the news in the morning and facebook at night. I call facebook news as its new things I dont know.

Him: “Are you on facebook again?”, Me, Indignant: ” I’m reading the NEWS”.

I justify calling it news as its where I found about the first Christchurch earthquake and the Boxing day Tsunami. I know as I type this, that there is something gone awry when one uses disasters to justify one’s use of social media first thing in the morning. Once it was cigarettes that I reached for as soon as my eyes opened. Now its the Galaxy S5.

This is not to say that all this hasn’t been helpful. I have learnt ways to be a better lifter, parent, friend and wife. I have had insights into lives that would have remained unknown. The cost has become too great, however, when I can’t answer the simple question? What book did you read last? And when Mother’s day is round the corner, and I’ve asked for a book, knowing full well that I haven’t anywhere near finished the book I desperately wanted for Mother’s day last year.

 

So the solution. Hugh McGuire’s article from SF Chronicle has some ideas and gives me hope that there is a chance for me. A bit like when I realised that all I had to do when I wanted to be a lifter is lift. Or to be a runner, I had to run. To be a reader I have to read. Starting with Lance O’Sullivan’s Autobiography so that I can receive this year’s mother’s day present this year with gratitude and no guilt attached.

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How can 1000 cat videos be more important than this?

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The internet and the death of reading

  1. This is gold. I could’ve written it myself. Truly (apart from the degree bit) I love reading too and have many books over the past few years that haven’t even been started.
    I’m obsessed with the Internet, browse, shop, socialise, organise, communicate, work, it’s all there.
    I try not to feel as guilty though as I remember one very wise friend say this about spending so much time on a health and wellbeing FB group that I am in, “It’s like an on line magazine, you can read bits you want and flick through bits you’re not interested in.”
    So we do read….just not actual books which I miss. The last book I read was last year in Raro….why? Because no wifi.

    Like

    1. You’re right Caroline, Maybe it’s snobbishness that values content as lesser than books. But I do feel it has affected my concentration. I get bored much more easily. Not bored, exactly but wanting more. Another hit o\f information. I need a really engaging book, I think, to get me in to the habit.

      Like

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