Evolution of a literary distraction

by Louis Borgenicht

Since the advent of the Internet my reading habits have dramatically changed.

Truth to tell I never learned the proper lessons from childhood: my mother was a voracious reader consuming several books in a day. As a youth I recall wallowing in Nancy Drew mysteries and the historical novels of Geoffrey Trease and would actually sit for lengths of time in bed before falling asleep.

Trease was a British writer of 113 books; the Nancy Drew mysteries were written by a variety of authors under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene, a fact I recently learned from  Wikipedia. But the lessons learned in childhood did not last long; I rarely read for extended periods of time.

Readers of this blog have learned about my New Yorker angst, long ago making my peace with being behind.

Similarly, I have had problems with the Sunday New York Times. The drive to read it on the day it is tossed unceremoniously onto my snowless driveway is just not there. Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I would make a special effort to read the news of the week in Review immediately feeling I had to get the heady stuff out of the way first. If I waited until the end of the week to read it I would likely not.

Now I have become more lackadaisical. I glance at the front section, peruse the Arts section mainly to see if some spectacular television offering is coming up, and then relegate the business, sports, and travel section (unless there is an article on some destination we hope to visit) to the recycle bin. Living in SLC there is no urgency in getting through the Times at one sitting; years ago living in NYC there was a hip pleasure buying the Sunday Times on Saturday night along with fresh real bagels,
going to bed shortly after midnight, and awakening leisurely on Sunday morning knowing I had everything I needed.

The Internet has exacerbated my tendency to literary distraction. Emails were the first step. There are decisional issues: you read an email and have to decide whether to erase it immediately or retain it for future reference. This is particularly true if a friend sends you something with the subject “FYI or I thought you might like this.” You can open the attachment, give it a quick glance and file it somewhere for future reference.

That is the problem: future reference. It feeds into possibility and hope. Will I read it? If so when? Where will I find it if I finally decide to read it?

Unless you are incredibly disciplined you will forget about it, discovering days or months later when you accidentally open a file you did not know existed. The moment of truth arrives as your guilt wells: read it or delete it sight unseen.

This short-order reading has affected my dealing with real books. I rarely take the time to sit down for upwards of half an hour in a comfortable chair and just read. It would be lovely to do so, meditative even. But my brain has been programmed for distraction.

Even at night I am only able to read for five minutes before falling asleep. It is clearly the fault of the computer. I have often thought that Apple should give every new customer a prescription of Ritalin with each new computer to minimize attention deficit.

Only then might I get back to the good old days of my youth.

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