Have I stopped reading? I feel as if I have done so. You must have smiled knowing what I am going to say. I miss the smell of the new book, and I miss the smell of old books. I miss my dog–eared books. Pramod is getting nostalgic and is using the well–earned right to use the phrase, “in my young days”! It is nothing of the sort! I keep on churning my blogs on various subjects, almost every alternate day. You can describe my yearly output as high! Without reading a lot, I cannot write regularly.
But then why am I making this statement? Here is what is happening. Except for newspapers, I read everything on a screen. I write everything on the screen. Sometimes I am afraid that I may not be able to write on a paper with a pen. I am scared that my bank may not accept my signature because it does not match with their records– luckily, I do not write too many cheques these days.
Let me explain. When I am reading digitally, I am not able to concentrate the way I used to in olden days. There are too many interrupts. I keep getting intimations of WhatsApp messages, SMS messages; e-mail received, and so on. I get lured to that ping which interrupts my thought processes. After great efforts, finally, my mind is interrupted, and I read that message or the email. The interrupts do disturb me, but I get lured to that text. The thought process that got created in my mind while reading got interrupted. If the interrupt is such that I need to act on it immediately, I do that.
In my olden days, when I used to read that book curling down in that corner, the only interruptions would be from my mother or Jaya. They knew better and gave that look or a lecture when I went to the table for a meal or a coffee. Job done, I would be back with the book and went back to nirvana pose.
What do the interrupts do? One day, I was reading a book, and I had decided that I would complete at least one chapter. It was an exciting book, and I was confident that I would easily accomplish my task. My phone was near me, and I had kept my kindle away. Within thirty minutes, I got many “interrupts” on the phone. I had become Vishvamitra and interrupts were the Menaka luring me from my Tapasya. I could not continue reading the book for more than fifteen minutes. Menaka won, and I picked up the phone. I saw many things that could have easily waited. In one message, there was a link. I clicked on that link which gave me three more links. I went into the loop, click the links, and after spending more than forty minutes on things unrelated to what I was reading, I stopped. I was sitting, twiddling my thumbs with different thoughts in my mind. I almost picked up the book, but suddenly that remote came in my hand and started going through the list on Netflix! That my friends is the power of interrupts.
Now I am used to reading in the interrupt mode. I am not saying that I read less than what I used to read before. Maybe I read much more than I used to read, but not necessarily from a book, I have selected. I switch to read my book on my kindle. When I switch from screen to screen, I feel less disturbed. Once I change my mind to “interrupt” reading, I am okay.
Nowadays, I hear that kids use the internet for studies in certain areas. They do not buy books. I thought undergrad courses had specific syllabi. So how do you do your studies using the internet? There are so many distractions, many links; there is a lot of additional information and data available. How do you learn only specific information from your syllabus?
The speed with which the information reaches you is unbelievable. It is impossible to keep track of the same. It is not only about keeping track, but it is also about filtering out the specific information which you need. When the internet came initially, I did not understand the effects it will have on humanity. I thought, how I will change my life-long habit of reading printed books. How will I change my habit of reading the weekly and monthly magazines? I could never imagine myself reading on my phone and the kindle. Even today, I prefer the large screen of the laptop as against reading on a kindle or my cell phone. I have got myself a small foldable table which I can adjust as per my position sitting or lying down. It only changes the comfort but not the basic change from the printed book to the screen.
I feel that we have become more intolerant of things. Further to this intolerance, there is continuous addition of more stimuli. The relentless data and information that keeps on coming to you make one feel as if we are on an assembly line which never stops. The situation does not allow you to assimilate the information you have processed. We get a feeling of a never-ending process.
I will share an example. On our WhatsApp group, a friend asked some information about passport rule. Our friend must have become dazed after other friends shared relentless information and experiences. That was a classic example of information overload. Whether he got the information he needed, I am not sure.
But one thing will never come back. When I studied, I had to give full (and I could give) attention to what I read. I could get fully immersed in reading love stories. I could delve deep into what I was reading. I could give full attention to the classics that I read. While in school, there was a specific way of learning the poems. Some of those poems, I know by heart even today! With the switchover to digital media reading, that feeling of getting immersed in reading will never come back.
On the positive side, what we lose in feeling, we will get the benefit of the tremendous amount of information that is available by clicking and clicking. In olden days research was an arduous task, especially in India because many international books and journals were not quickly available. Now, you can get a lot of information and data by free or paid subscriptions. You get an email update link for the latest information.
Whether the old way of reading books or using a screen to read is the correct way, only time will tell. Take care and don’t ask me to publish some of my blogs in book form. I will send you a link, click it and read whatever and whenever you want!