Much has been written about smart phone and social media’s effect on modern attention spans. We don’t read in the same way, becoming used to getting everything in small, bite size chunks of information. Often reading only the title and first couple of sentences of an article before forming an opinion, probably posting that opinion, and then moving on to the next thing. I have noticed on a number of occasions at home and elsewhere, when we have a movie on, or are out at dinner, or just hanging out with friends, at least one person is always on their phone, if only to take pictures (which inevitably also leads to filtering that picture and posting it, as well). I don’t say this judgmentally at all, either, because I am almost always one of those people that are on the phone during those times, as well, checking a sports score, box office number, or just bored with the conversation or movie at the time and felt like seeing what was going on. As I’m writing this, even, I’m stopping to look at other things for a minute or two, because focusing is honestly really difficult.
I have always been a voracious, though cyclical, reader. I will go a month where I read nothing, and then read 10 books in a month. I have always sought after and loved very long novels as well. A week or so ago, I realized I hadn’t read a book in nearly three or four months. I was a little shocked, but then I thought deeper and realized the past few years have by far been the most sparsely read of my life. I have a busy life, married, children, full time job, but there was no excuse for not reading. I listened to a ton of podcasts, watched television and movies, but really spent a ton of time just endlessly scrolling through the three main social media apps.
I resolved to pick up a book again and start reading. I was a little surprised by just how hard it was. I read an article years ago that talked about just how much our brains hard wiring have been changed by the way that we spend our mental energy now. We went from reading novels, to going to see movies, to listening to the radio, to watching sitcoms, to you tube videos and now 200 odd character tweets. Reading required stretching a muscle that was very out of shape.
It felt damn good to finish that book, and I have finished many after since, and I have tried to put the phone down as much as possible, although that’s harder than I thought as well. It’s a lifeline to the world, to people, and to experiences, just like the books I was reading. Both are worthwhile, but I do believe that our neglect for reading and truly learning, is a real detriment to civilization and is one of many factors that have led to a breakdown in discourse and overall civility, a word I actually really hate.
When you read well-researched and argued books, the truth is not fuzzy. The truth sits there, like a stapler on your desk, not changing into a tape dispenser or water bottle, because it is a stapler. No matter how many times someone tells me that the stapler is something other than a stapler, the facts and the function tell me that it is indeed a stapler.
My point is that we have lost our ability to recognize something is a stapler, essentially. We won’t walk over to it, examine it, and staple something for ourselves. We are playing a giant game of telephone, instead, where a stapler goes down the line until the person that heard from the person that heard from the person that heard from the person that used the thing tells you it’s a Super Soaker, and instead of going back and checking on it, we just accept it and move on.
What if we made a point to check everything that we’re told instead of just passing it on? What if we read more than we listened and listened more than we talked?
I would love to find out.