Why are books important?
When I think back on my life, I can define a set of books that shaped me — intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. Books have always been an escape, a learning experience, a savior, but beyond this, greater than this, certain books became, over time, a kind of glue that holds together my understanding of the world. I think of them as nodes of knowledge and emotion, nodes that knot together the fabric myself. Books, for me anyway, hold together who I am.
Books, in ways that are different to visual art, to music, to radio, to love even, force us to walk through another’s thoughts, one word at a time, over hours and days. We share our minds for that time with the writer’s. There is slowness, a forced reflection required by the medium that is unique. Books recreate someone else’s thoughts inside our own minds, and maybe it is this one-to-one mapping of someone else’s words, on their own, without external stimuli, that give books their power. Books force us to let someone else’s thoughts inhabit our minds completely.
Books are not just transferees of knowledge and emotion, but a special kind of tool that flattens oneself into another, that enable the trying-on of foreign ideas and emotions. This suppressing of the self is a kind of meditation too — and while books have always been important to me on their own (pre-digital) merits, it started to occur to me that “learning how to read books again,” might also be a way to start weaning my mind away from this dopamine-soaked digital detritus, this meaningless wash of digital information, which would have a double benefit: I would be reading books again, and I would get my mind back.
And, there are, often, beautiful universes to be found on the other side of the cover of a book.
The problems with digital stuff
Recent neuroscience confirms many of the things we sufferers of digital overload know innately. That successful multi-tasking is a myth. Multi-tasking makes us stupider.
This is bad for so many reasons: it makes us less effective at work, which means either we get less done, or have less time to spend doing other things, or both.
Being in a situation where you are trying to concentrate on a task, and an e-mail is sitting unread in your inbox, can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points. (The Organized Mind, by Daniel J Levitin)
It’s worse than that though, because this constant hopping from one thing to another is also exhausting.
My least productive days, the days when I have spent the most time jumping between projects and emails and Twitter and whatever else, are also my most exhausting days. I used to think that my exhaustion was the cause of this lack of focus, but it turns out the opposite might be true.
The problem defined
And so, the problem, more or less, is identified:
I cannot read books because my brain has been trained to want a constant hit of dopamine, which a digital interruption will provide This digital dopamine addiction means I have trouble focusing: on books, work, family and friends Problem identified, or most of it. There is more.
Oh, and don’t forget about television
We live in a golden age of television, there is no doubt. The stuff being produced these days is very good. And there is a lot of it. For the past couple of years, my evening routine has been a variation on: get home from work, exhausted. Make sure the girls have eaten. Make sure I eat. Get the girls to bed. Feel exhausted. Turn on the computer to watch some television. Be bad at watching TV and bad at getting emails done. Go to bed. Try to read. Check email. Try to read again. Fall asleep.
Those who read own the world, and those who watch television lose it. -Werner Herzog
I don’t know if Werner Herzog is right, but I do know that I would never say about television — even the great stuff, of which there is plenty — what I say about books. There are no television shows that exist as nodes holding together my understanding of the world. My relationship to television is just not the same as it is to books.
And, so, a change
And so, starting in January, I started making some changes.
The key ones are:
No more Twitter, Face book, or article reading during the work day (hard) No reading of random news articles (hard) No smart phones or computers in the bedroom (easy) No TV after dinner (it turns out, easy)
Instead, go straight to bed and start reading a book — usually on an ink reader (it turns out, easy).
The shocking thing was how quickly my mind adapted to accommodate reading books again. I had expected to fight for that concentration — but I didn’t have to fight. With less digital input (no pre-bed TV, especially), extra time (no TV, again), and without a tempting digital device near at hand … there was time and space for my mind to settle into a book. What a wonderful feeling it was. I am reading books now more than I have in years. I have more energy, and more focus than I’ve had for ages. I have not fully conquered my digital dopamine addiction, though, but it’s getting there. I think reading books is helping me retrain my mind for focus.
And books, it turns out, are still the same wonderful things they used to be. I can read them again.
Smokers who are the most optimistic about their ability to resist temptation are the most likely to relapse four months later, and overoptimistic dieters are the least likely to lose weight.- Kelly McGonigal: The Willpower Instinct
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Smart Sidhu have diverse industry exposure and extensive professional experience under the belt. Smartsidhu is multi-tasking team leader with high sense of responsibility towards deadlines and have an ability to present concepts and ideas with full conviction.
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