Stay Focused

What would you do if you weren’t so afraid? What would I do?

I’d read.

Right now, as I try and type this out, I’m stuck in an endless loop of Gmail, Twitter, and Reddit. As soon as I get bored of something, I fireup either the webpage or app (depending on how close I am to my computer) and browse until I get bored again. And then I move onto the next one, and the next one. As I try and write this, I’m already thinking of finding the next big post to up-vote, or the next message to read and reply to. I’m stuck in this endless feedback loop of constantly being connected, and there’s a serious problem with that.

When I was younger, I could read a book for hours on end. I have a distinct memory of being sick when the fifth Harry Potter book was released, and finishing that in two days. Granted, the typeface was massive, but it still felt good; like I had accomplished something. I was hooked. Now that I’m older, reading has been replaced, not entirely, but replaced nonetheless with movies and podcasts. I have a love/hate relationship with Netflix and Pocket Casts.

That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading entirely. Oh no. At the start of 2014, Pocket, formerly read-it-later, a service in which you save articles offline to read later, sent me my stats for 2013. I honestly didn’t even know they were keeping track of such a thing, but they were.

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Now, at first glance, even I was impressed, but I started to look at it again and realized that if I were to have taken on the 52 books in a year challenge in 2013, purely using my Pocket stats, I would’ve fallen short by 19 books. That’s a substantial number.

Since January, I’ve bought 14 books, of which I’m only partly through the second. They’re sitting on my shelf, collecting dust, as I browse the internet searching for the next rush of adrenaline.

So what’s the problem? The only obvious answer that I can think of is that we as a culture have lost some of our ability to stay focused. I know I have. We’re constantly on the search for the next viral hit to share with our friends, in order to say, “yes, I am in the loop.” We live in a culture that perpetuates sharing experiences with one another, whether it’s face-to-face or through a screen, and we live our lives with the distinct fear of missing out on that.

And how can we fix this pervasive issue? By achieving a sense of balance. Find something to read for 30 minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be anything major like a literary opera, but something simple like the newspaper. We aren’t going to stop using these apps that give us a sense of immense satisfaction-they’re fun, and they connect us to the world around us-but we need to find a sense of balance.

Reading involves more than just sitting down and scanning your eyes across groups of words. It requires you to focus, to think about what the author meant, and it uses your imagination to take you to wonderous places that no movie or radio program could ever hope to. Reading is an incredibly cathartic experience. It’s scary, but having time to yourself where you can disconnect, is important. It does wonders.

So, what am I going to do?

I’m going to read.