Just over a year ago, I was still reading books. Never electronic books (to which I’m a stranger) but books made from print and paper. I would happily open a Stephen King, as thick and as heavy as your average household brick, smell the pages (can’t do that with an e-book) and begin ploughing through each page, spraying the words up and into this book receptive brain. Just sitting there, head down, hands never moving unless to turn the page. Not anymore.
Just over a year ago I began flinging articles out into the vast internet ocean, hoping that at least one wouldn’t sink without trace. That hope was vague though, because article writing was just a hobby; like the occasional knitting project (dolls, never clothes); the occasional painting (portrait) of the self-taught via YouTube variety; the occasional thumping out of a tune at the piano. These were pastimes. No pressure, no worries.
I called the stuff I wrote back then ‘articles’. I didn’t know the commonly used word is ‘posts’. A website was the place I uploaded them to – not a blog. I’d surfed the net for years without really picking up any of the jargon, because it didn’t matter; because I wasn’t part of the internet ether, and didn’t want to be. I’d lurked my way through enough message boards to know that the internet can be a scary and disturbing place not least because, behind all that PC technology, lays the sprawling mass of humanity at the controls.
I’m a year on from writing stuff that gets uploaded to an anonymous server in I don’t know where, and last week I was incapable of getting past page 42 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. What’s changed? I thought. What happened to my previously intact attention span?
A glut of technology is what happened. I suddenly came out of the stone age (my mobile phone is 9 years old, with a screen so tiny I’m almost in need of a magnifying glass) and acquired some space age tools; ones which Arthur C Clarke rather remarkably predicted on page 42 of the Odyssey. There you will find Dr Heywood Floyd reading a ‘Newspad’, which is actually an actual iPad, complete with expandable items on its screen. And Mr Clarke hit the information overload nail squarely on the head, with this piece of prescient wisdom (and we’re still on page 42):
“The more wonderful the means of communication, the more trivial, tawdry or depressing its contents seemed to be.”
Boy, did he say it (47 years ago)
Technology costs a lot of money and for years I’d rather go without, but now I’m the surprised owner of an Apple iPad and a Dell laptop (the keyboard lights up even.) That, and the blog writing, is why book reading has become just so darned difficult.
Take Mr Clarke’s startling invention of the iPad c1968. When I first read the Space Odyssey, a lifetime ago, page 42 barely registered. I must have read it as pure Sci-Fi, without the scientific knowledge to realise that the author was very cleverly predicting future change. So this time around I read the word Newspad, and reached for my own Newspad. Ten minutes research time later and I’d learned that Samsung used the film clip below in a lawsuit against Apple re: iPad design. I also discovered the said film clip on YouTube, not knowing that this was the first filmed (albeit a special effect) use of an actual iPad. By that time I’d lost track of boring old print and paper and decided one more crack at Candy Crush might get me to the next level.
I’ve become a gadget junkie, without even realising it. My book page isn’t suffused in an electronic glow, which makes it harder to read now I’m at the age where reading glasses are needed. I can’t tap on any of the words and be taken rapidly to another page, or to more related, background information. My hands are idle, lacking the keyboard and mouse. Books have becoming boring.
That’s some statement when, in a previous life, I was always to be found reading. Old photographs show me on holidays, book in hand. Sitting in front of the TV, book in hand. As a child I steam rollered my way through the Just William series, through every Enid Blyton, collected all the Star Trek books by James Blish, read ghost stories, Lord of the Rings etc etc. Then, on to university to read almost the entire canon of English Literature. I whiled away my first pregnancy reading every Agatha Christie – and now I have to almost force myself to pick up a book.
I used to browse book shops but now I have a book shop at my fingertips. I couldn’t tell you which authors are current. I’ve never read the best sellers. I resisted the mass marketed appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey. I discovered Stephen King just a few years ago, and he’s been going for AGES. I picked up the book reading habit again then, big time – his writing is addictive. But since then, nothing.
And I blame this laptop I’m currently typing this rubbish on and the Blog I recently set up. Because I can’t just sit there doing nothing anymore. I’m almost permanently in blog writing mode. Noticing things around me. Noticing the endless reel of facebook posts filling up my newsfeed (I must quit facebook is a thought often uppermost in my unwanted info, saturated mind.) Noticing what’s being talked about on the internet and thinking; maybe that’s something I can write about.
And the writing of a blog post (if you’re me) takes hours. There’s the first draft. Then the research to get your facts right; to get names right; to get everything right. Then the formatting, editing, re-editing and final edit because, unlike the other relaxing hobbies, you’re going to PUBLISH this stuff to the internet, in the hope that someone may actually take the time to read it.
And it turns out that the writing and the research and the producing something, that looks almost professional, becomes addictive, even though you know that your writerly contribution is merely adding to an already massively overcrowded technological space.
I’m determined to rediscover my ability to concentrate on one thing at a time; by getting to the end of A Space Odyssey by this Friday.