Earlier this week I bumped into one of my ex-colleagues from last year’s summer job. Just before we parted ways he asked for my number, saying his friend (another one of my ex-colleagues) would like to catch up with me. I complied and so that night I received a text. It took me a while to reply because I was very engrossed in The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler. I was at the most heart-wrenching parts. Nothing could tear me away. I apologized for the delayed reply, telling him I wasn’t in the habit of checking my texts frequently. He said he understood, given how focused I tend to be and how much I love to read. That got me thinking. With all the hype about multitasking, our supposed need to multitask and yet how bad it is and how scientifically impossible it is too, is reading the one last thing that I can’t do whilst doing something else?
See, when I’m on my laptop, I have tens of windows open at the same time. My browsers (yes, with an s because I have Safari AND Chrome open) have another hundred tabs open, with iTunes or Spotify playing my current music of choice. I might also be editing some images in Photoshop, and be trying to create some semblance of order among my unwieldily organized files and folders. As if that isn’t enough, my smartphone’s right there by my side, allowing me to hold the vastness of the Internet right there in my hand. But when I read, at the very most I will have some music playing in the background. Though usually that is only the case because the music was already playing. If I pick up a book first, that’s it, I’m gone.
What is it about books that holds my prolonged interest like that? Even when I’m watching TV I feel the need to do something. Anything. Paint my nails, incessantly refresh Bloglovin’ or scroll through Flipboard for snippets of news updates, peel carrots for my next meal, or when I’m in my dorm room, scrub laundry that is for handwashing only. You get the picture. Practically speaking, it’s tougher to do other tasks at the same time as reading since I need at least one hand to hold a book. Yet I think even if I could mount books before my eyes, or project ebooks unto the wall in front of me in order to go handsfree, I think I still wouldn’t do anything else. This is why I often switch my phone to flight mode to avoid distractions. I don’t want to be disturbed.
Reading is a way to experience other worlds and lives. I think that goes without saying. When visiting new places, as in travelling, we take as little along from home, while aiming to experience as much as we can at our destination. Same goes with reading. When I read, I don’t think about what I am doing in that moment or where I am (unless I’m on a subway and I don’t want to miss my next stop). Doing something else would be like leaving half of myself home while travelling. In other words, next to impossible. Also, reading requires my whole mind. As I read, I make sense of the words and I imagine what the characters see and experience. That requires a lot of attention on my part. Maybe that’s why I’m not so easily distracted when I read. Or maybe the Internet is just a time-sucker because it constantly is at our finger tips.
How easily are you distracted? Do you switch off from everything else when you read, or do you feel the need to stay plugged in no matter what you are doing?