On Reading

I spend a lot of time looking at screens. My laptop. My monitor at work. My smartphone. Most waking hours from Monday through Friday are spent in rotation, moving from one device to the next.

There’s been a lot written about this running carousel of screens and how it impacts our generation. A lower tolerance for long-form content. An inability to spend enough time on a single task to get large tasks accomplished. A shorter attention span.

And there is truth to these concerns. At almost any point in the day, we all feel the invisible pull of our smartphones. Even when we’re watching television, we’re scrolling through mobile feeds and push notifications.

This constant tug of our attention in all directions can, at best, be a mild annoyance, and, at worst, be a serious risk to our ability to think — to our ability to keep a continued and complex train of thought.

With the many purported problems of screen devotion come many proposed solutions.

Turn off push notifications.

Check your email once a day.

Delete your Facebook.

In reality, these answers to technology-induced attention ask too much. Technology is an integral part of how we operate today. We shouldn’t have to boycott the internet or email or social media to recover our train of thought.

In recent years, as my own screen consumption has increased (especially with the transition from college to the office,) reading has become one of my favorites ways to focus on one thing, and one thing only, for a set amount of time.

I try and take time most nights to read. Physical books with pages, not kindles, so as to break the screen streak. I take my phone, put it on Do Not Disturb, and put it in the other room. I use a dictionary so that if I need to look up a word, I can do it the analog way, and not by using my phone (which I’ve found invariably leads to push notifications and Snapchat and Instagram and Twitter.)

Even if it’s just for ten minutes before I go to bed, I’ve found that making reading a part of my daily routine is a big help. Within the first minutes of sitting down with a book, I feel my mind darting around, still thinking of all the emails, messages, and tasks I need to get to. But then the noise fades out, and my mind just focuses on the text.

It’s the best way I’ve found to disconnect from the network on a daily basis.