I am trying to spend less time online.
I’m hardly the first person to notice that reading (or skimming your “feeds,”) on the internet is a less absorbing, more distracted experience than reading actual print, and that it makes me a less absorbed, more distracted person than I used to be, with less depth than I’d like to believe I have. Than I want to have.
I try to be online only when I have to — that is, for work. Or really want to — so, writing (parts of which I do on Google Docs, Submittable, email, WordPress, etc) and communicating with my friends, who are geographically far-flung and thus mostly available online.
So I’m offline in the evenings, usually. And…when I sleep. Hmm.
My efforts are not enough, clearly. They’re also very illuminating indeed. For example, I go days at a time now without checking Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and that’s lovely. When I do this, I can feel my brain start to adjust away from the need to scroll, to check for notifications, and it’s pure relief. Well, not pure: I miss things. That’s also lovely, surprisingly often.
There’s more to be said on the subject. You can find a lot of it online.
Meanwhile, I’m going on a roadtrip. Just me, my tiny car, a heck of a load of audiobooks, and that great expanse of Mystery that gets tagged “the American West.”
And my computer, obviously, because I’m driving to and from a week-long writing seminar, and I can’t imagine being without my QWERTY when inspiration lays an ambush. Or every morning during my regularly appointed writing time, where I try to ambush it. Or when I need to find literally any of my published or unpublished work.
Aside from those necessities (?), I plan to stay offline as much as possible, for the eleven days I’ll be away from my regular life. Just to see what it’s like, really. What I’m like. I’m not confident I know this territory anymore.
Inside my regular life, the thing I’m trying to do more of is read books.
But don’t writers read all the time, when they’re not, you know, writing? I assume that too, but for me, it’s not quite correct. Tracking my habits, I’ve found I read maybe a book a week, or sometimes every two weeks, plus little bits and pieces of other books here and there. I zoom like a hummingbird from one to another, and I find it hard to settle. There are no enticing links to click on, no additional tabs to check. Just me and the text.
I used to love this focused, one-to-one relationship. I still do, I think, but it feels like an idealized love now, a nostalgic love, and one I don’t work at.
Love is a verb. And I am out of the habit of loving reading.
So that’s the goal: when not actively doing something online, get off, and if I want to read, or I don’t know what the heck I want, read a book.
Like many folks I know, I have a TBR pile teetering into its third shin-high stack. So there’s plenty to choose from. Plus about a hundred literary flings and favorites and first loves and long-term relationships I keep on my shelves.
Honoring that latter group, and the spirit of searching for a sane analog balance to our unavoidably digital lives, here are three very different texts* that have spoken again to me lately:
The River Why — David James Duncan
Landmarks —Robert MacFarlane
The Wake —Paul Kingsnorth
Perhaps you know them, too, or you’d like them if you did. Perhaps they make you itchy, or inspire Opinions. I’d love to hear them.
I don’t care overmuch about agreement, but books should have something to say, something that can start conversations. Which are another thing I value, and want to make more time for, online and off.
*No links, for reasons. As our parents used to say: “go look it up.” ;)