I have a confession. I used to be a bookworm. The kind that would be deaf to the world when a book found its way into my hands. A person who’d lose all sense of place or communication once the book had ensnared me with its words, sentences, paragraphs.
Until the internet, social media and blogging happened.
And I don’t blame anyone for it. I don’t blame the tech giants for creating social media, not anymore. Because when it comes down to the crunch, the only person responsible for the slowed reading was me. However there does appear to be a lot of truth to the statement that online reading HAS impacted attention spans to a large extent. A piece from 4 years ago in the Washington Post seems to bear this out.
Before we proceed, let me clarify a few things:
- This is not an attack on tech or social media. I use/work with social media so it would be erroneous to state that all my problems with reading are linked to social media or technology.
- If you’re not impacted by this and have a fabulous reading habit, trust me, I am happy for you. This post largely applies to the kind of reading I am going to talk about in the next few paragraphs.
- This is not an attack on YOUR use of social media or tech, either. We all use it for our own purposes: work, leisure, connection, staying in touch with family, a hobby. I am not going to sit in judgment upon how you choose to use technology or social media.
What I am going to do however is ask you to take a good, long, hard look at your own reading habit, if you have one. Then, assess how it has changed or not over the last few years. Ask yourself why.
In my specific case, let me be very honest. I put reading and by that I mean deep, intense, distraction-free reading on the back burner because I fell in love with blogging. Blogging being a community exercise (at least initially) meant that I spent most of my days/nights writing posts, visiting blogs, commenting on them and sharing them.
Now all of this takes up a lot of time, granted. But what I didn’t realise was that I was not just doing these things. In addition, I would hang around on social media, posting updates, waiting for notifications and then stay there until that came through.
Result: Reading time took a hit.
Then, I realised that when I actually started to read a book, my mind would wander. I’d find my eyes straying from the book and looking towards the phone, even when it wasn’t ringing or vibrating with notifications. I’d find myself unable to read beyond simple, short sentences. Anything effectively descriptive and eloquently gorgeous would be skimmed! This is coming from someone who would read Shakespeare. For pleasure! I found myself favouring articles on the internet over a novel.
Result: I stopped reading intensely.
Work then reared its head and the one challenge of working from home sometimes means that we blur the line between working and leisure. Not having a schedule means that we are the bosses of our own time. Only problem is that we are never in control of these things.
Result: I sacrificed reading in favour of work.
You know how it is with shortcomings and flaws. You know they exist and you know you need to do something about them. But the move from thinking to doing is a bit of a quantum leap.
Then, I sprained my wrist in July this year. A sprained wrist teaches you a lot of things but mostly it brought home to me the fact that I couldn’t type or write on the phone or laptop. By default, I switched back to my favourite hobby-reading. Fortunately I could still read holding a book or the Kindle in my left hand, else I may have driven myself mad in the last two months.
Around a month before that I finished reading Cal Newport’s ‘Deep Work’ and it brought back to me the relevance of intense, focused work. This was the kind of work (and the kind of reading) that I had grown up doing. It was what gave me my edge in an otherwise competitive space.
Of course, habits don’t change magically overnight. Life isn’t a fairy tale. But a bad habit can be changed by replacing it with a good one. So, that’s what I did.
If I had to read more I had to surround myself with things that would help me read and not be swayed by the distraction of notifications.
I kept books and my Kindle handy and close by whereas I started leaving my laptop and my phone in fixed locations.
My aim, on a personal level, is not a certain number of books to read. I know that works for a lot of people and more power to them, truly.
No, my aim, today and for the discernible future, is to get back to reading the way I used to read. To lose myself in words, sentences, paragraphs in such a way that I forget the concept of time, space, routines and duties.
At the end of a week, month or year, I should be able to recall why I loved a book, what I could learn from it and how it shapes my view of life, as we know it.
The good news is it has begun. I already have begun to read the way I used to. The important thing is to ensure I stay in this space and don’t forget the commitment I have made to myself.
*If you are a reader I welcome your thoughts on this piece and also look forward to any suggestions for titles or books in any genre. My reading list is one that I don’t mind growing infinitely. 🙂