When was the last time I read a book without distractions? Umm...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Yesterday at work, I was trying to multi-task. Or rather, not really multi-task, but use the time between writing my code and waiting for it to run, to browse through my phone. I usually use these small intervals at work to check Facebook. My weakness is my local pet shelter because they post such cute cuddly photos of the pets they have, but that is neither here nor there. I had once tried to read a book during such a break, but I struggled with putting the book down and read too hurriedly. However, I had recently uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone, seeing as how it is such a useless distraction. So then, I started browsing through my feeds in Feedly, which is usually my second stop after Facebook, and that was when I saw this article at Salon by Michael Harris in which he journaled his struggle with reading War and Peace.

That's not a journey I can relate to since I have never felt the urge to read this humongous title, but I have tried to read big books in the past only to drop them after a few pages. The article is, however, more than about one person's struggles with a historically difficult book. Michael talks about how he used to be able to read for hours when he was a kid, but nowadays, he was not able to last five minutes without checking his phone. He was always looking for distractions - videos, Twitter, Facebook, emails, and he was plagued by a feeling of missing something if he didn't check his phone in the last five minutes.

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Michael could have been writing about me, for all I know. It's frightening really, how much time I spend staring at this tiny piece of plastic, at dinners, at work, during commute, and even where surrounded by people. If my phone was a little away from me and I heard it ding, I would spend half my brain trying to tell myself that the notification could wait. And then, I would go check it right away. Even a delightful book could not keep me away from my phone's notifications, if I heard the telltale dings. I often wonder how long it would take me to read the Harry Potter books today, with all these digital distractions around me.

I remember reading each Harry Potter book in less than two days, and feeling very sad that the book was over. I doubt I could do that now. I remember those days of sitting up all night to finish a book - something I have not done in years. I remember racing through a book in less than a day and then sitting back and basking in the awesomeness of what I just read. I remember not putting my book down unless it was to get some food or use the bathroom. Even baths have been known to being ignored when an awesome book was in town, not that I should confess to this. I remember walking everywhere with a book and telling anyone I see that they should read it. I also remember not starting another book too soon after the last one, therefore having plenty of time after finishing a book to digest and absorb it well.

The Hierarchy of Digital Distractions
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I miss those days. I wish I could read like that even now. Sure, I am an adult now and life IS busier. There are also all these extra responsibilities - dinner to cook, lunch to plan, groceries to buy, chores to complete, and then there are the fun responsibilities like blogging or catching up on Feedly. And even if I didn't have those responsibilities, I am usually beat by the end of a workday to want to do anything that requires my brain to go into overdrive. Usually, that means watching stupid TV, but it helps. So reading is now something I do after I am done with all the above. Some days, especially on days I write a blog post, I count myself lucky if I can even read a couple of pages.

I am glad that I uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone. I haven't been on the site since, so that ploy is certainly working. Even though I check my notifications right away, I don't keep turning it on to see if there is anything new. I have somewhat learned to ignore my phone dings after I go to bed. I say somewhat, because some days are better than others. I have also somewhat learned to wait until I am done with my current task or chapter, before checking my phone. But I still browse a lot. I am reading some article or the other all the time, and while I do enjoy that a lot, I want to be able to go back to my carefree reading days of my childhood, when I started reading a book knowing that I will be able to finish it quickly if the book is interesting enough. I would have read (and finished) books like War and Peace in those days - size did not bother me at all then. Today, I avoid chunksters because I know I will get distracted soon by something else and eventually that big book will sit by forgotten.

But more importantly, I want to be able to lose myself in the book I am reading. I want to look up from my book and feel that hours have passed (and dinner taken care of magically, of course). I want to keep my distractions to a minimum and not go looking for other visual eye candy, when the best treat is right in front of me and just waiting for its pages to be ruffled.

16 comments:

Shelleyrae said...

I have push notifications turned off for everything, you might find doing the same helpful :)

Diane said...

I think this techie distraction is true of so many of us. The same was happening to me while reading. I'd be reading then stop to make a scrabble move on my phone, then I'd start a new scrabble game, then I'd check email, read a few more pages and pack to phone. NOW I leave the phone in the room with my DH while I read and he'll let me know if I got a text -- it works much better. AT work is another story though -- LOL

JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing said...

Love this post!! I was just thinking about those long hours of reading from my childhood, but now I hardly last 15 minutes without getting distracted by something. Mostly my phone...

Mystica said...

I think this is a common problem and you are not alone. I am trying very hard not to check just FB but even email or the blogs. For me sometimes even the Tv does not hold my interest.

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

This is such a terrific post! I'm distracted when I do everything these days and it's not just because of my phone. I miss the days of reading for hours at a time as well!

Mary said...

I think we're all so accustomed to multitasking these days that it seems impossible to do one thing at a time. I'm not sure its possible to read without distraction these days. I need to join one of those tech-free challenges!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I hear ya. We definitely live in a busy world full of distractions. Sometimes, I leave my phone in my purse or on my bed side to keep from being tempted.

Bryan G. Robinson said...

I have been thinking on this (distractions) recently, with reading and in general. I know that my own reading is similar. I can't read in small chunks anymore, if I ever could, but I find it difficult to carve out long periods of time to read.

Andi said...

I have to remove myself from distractions. At lunch, for instance, I'll go away from the office in my car, park in a shady spot and read. I have no problem falling into a book sans distractions, and I definitely want to minimize. I think uninstalling that Facebook app might be the ticket! Sharing this post!

Tea Time with Marce said...

Oh Aths, I hate our new world of phone life and i'm 38, most love it. I would go back to no cellphones in a heartbeat. Work emails and alerts are new addictive 'devils' lol. And my time to read is bedtime after my daughter goes to bed. More and more I realise I am so tired I do a chapter or 2 if I am lucky. This is also one of the reasons I love my paperwhite Kindle instead of the iPad. I will read without being distracted with the world of iPad at my fingertips. I think turning off alerts is a great idea. I also put phone on silent at times but of course then you do miss an important call, sigh :-)

Biblioglobal said...

I certainly have my own share of distractions, but your post makes me happy not to have a smart phone! Could you turn off e-mail notifications on your phone? I find that if I have my laptop within reach when I'm trying to read, I will periodically want to stop reading to check e-mail, look something up, etc. So, unless I'm reading something where I know I will need to look things up, I try to read somewhere far enough away that I would have to stand up to get my laptop. It's silly, but I think it also helps if I can't see it. Maybe these kinds of strategies could help with your phone also?

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

This distractions thing is the reason I keep on resisting getting a smartphone. They'd be useful but I worry I'd never get anything accomplished again. Even as it is, I know that I sit down and READ READ READ much less often than I once did. When I do have the opportunity to just sit and read, it's the most absolute luxury. Reading is better that way.

My Home of Books said...

I grew up in the 60's which was before the time of so many technological advances (imagine, to call someone you had to use a rotary dial and if your finger slipped, then you had to hang up and start again...also if you got a busy signal!) I am retired early on disability so I've no need for the cost of a smart phone, a "dumb" one works fine for my needs. The only apps I have are on my kindle fire for playing games or binge-watching tv. My reading is a kindle paperwhite or a paperback. My facebook and twitter are only for my book blog and not personal socializing.

In a way I'm glad I grew up this way...my daughter is a slave to her i-phone and I cringe when I hear those dings across the room. I can separate my reading time from all other social media with no problems, and won't even have a tv on in the same room. I remember reading a new Nancy Drew in one sitting as a young person, only stopping to get something to eat. It was an awesome experience and I love to recreate it as often as I can--but now I find myself nodding off long before the last page, an ode to my age :)

Great post and food for thought!

Sam_TinyLibrary said...

This post is so true! Facebook is addictive, you can spend hours on it and not even really know what you've done.
Now that my free time is very limited by having a newborn baby, I'm trying not to waste it as I used to.

Athira / Aths said...

I did try that initially. But it actually backfired for me because I found myself compulsively refreshing my phone to see if I missed something. I do have pull notifications for some accounts I don't care for much, but the ones I check often, I still have the push notifications.

literaryfeline said...

I know it is bad when I am sitting at my computer, reading my e-mails and I find myself checking my phone (for e-mails too--the same e-mails no less!).


I am most guilty of sitting and playing a game on my phone or browsing social media, wasting valuable reading time. Sometimes though, my brain just needs the break--or a different set of stimuli.


I do know what you mean though about constantly wanting to check your phone when reading or cleaning or doing some other task. My phone goes everywhere with me just about--even when it really doesn't need to. I have made a point though of setting it aside when I am with my daughter or husband or some other interaction with other human beings. Then it becomes rude, of course, but also I don't want to take away from time with my family.


I've been trying to make a point of setting my phone aside or sitting far away from the computer when I do get longish stretches of reading time so I can get lost in a book for awhile. Unfortunately those even are rare moments--three year olds are pretty demanding. :-)