Book Reading Routines and the Internet

I was going to apologise for the long silence here. I am working on a post about depression, it is difficult to complete and I don’t know when I’ll be done. In the meanwhile, I’ve posted reviews of books I have read recently, and this post is about the virtues of and barriers to reading books.

 

clipart library shelves

 
I’ve wanted to return to a habit of reading books regularly for years. I’m always reading stuff – basically any text I see around me and heaps of articles, blogs and other online communication. I can’t not read… but have for a long time rarely read books.

Probably because the books have a severe competitor: the Internet. There are always things I want to look up, read about, see videos about, write about, or discuss on the Internet… so that I don’t have time to read books. Or sleep… some of the time.

 
Reading on the Internet

The Internet is a huge game changer; it is strongly empowering. For a person like me who is a bit of a loner in many ways, it gives easy access to a world of knowledge and ideas and people that I otherwise most likely wouldn’t be able to reach, or at least not that easily. The Internet is a vital source of learning, opportunities and relationships which I wouldn’t want to be without.

But the Internet is also massively distracting. It encourages an AHDH-like, superficial reading style. A tendency to skim vast fields of information, cherry-pick the most immediately engaging bits, and move on quickly.

The below video pictures typical Internet behaviour as obsession with constantly checking social media updates. I’m not so prone to that, I’m more into pursuing specific information tracks, but I do agree with the key point: that the Internet tends to promote a flickering, superficial, try-to-keep-an-eye-on-everything kind of information searching behaviour.

 

 
The Internet is extremely addictive. There is a lack of boundaries associated with it, a lack of definite beginnings and endings. I spend monstrous chunks of time on the Internet, and often I don’t notice what precisely I spend time on or consider much whether it is worthwhile. Time just flies, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

I won’t stop because I feel like I am busy, feel like I am in a flow, but often the flow is diluted, drained, exhausted from too many side-tracks, and I have stopped thinking and continued browsing out of inertia. I may have absorbed a lot of information but it is hard to tell what I have learned because there is no well organised track of evidence, no obvious completion of a milestone, no way to measure the quality of learning.

Books, on the other hand, have a different kind of impact. They are grounding. Calming. Tactile. They welcome handwritten notes, highlights and drawings in the margins*… encourage a personal hands-on relationship. They anchor the attention for long periods of time. They represent milestones, learned insights, completed stories.

That’s why I want to make it a habit to read more books and spend less time on the Internet. Notice that I don’t mean I want to abandon the Internet; just establish firmer boundaries and prevent it from flooding too many aspects of my life with distractions.

 
Personal history of book reading

Long time ago, learning to read was like getting a magical key to an infinite number of worlds: books. Books and stories were safe platforms for exploring a multitude of realities. A library was like a Universe, albeit not an infinite universe. I pretty much drained the library shelves for books about my favourite topics, and then had to slowly expand my interests.

No more books about horses? Then any books about any companion animals was potentially interesting. When that area was exhausted, then I would read about wild animals. I loved to immerse myself in fictive worlds (and escape the world around me), whether reading books or writing “books**”, but I also read many handbooks about my favourite animals at the time – like horses, dogs, budgies, and guinea pigs.

I largely abandoned reading books during my weird adolescence, fighting a sense of confusion and disconnection from the world, and trying to minimise all inputs so as to curb the confusion. I think that was the reason, mainly.

 
Turn off the lights

A few months ago, I curbed my evening Internet activities with the introduction of a new evening routine. More precisely it was my psychologist, who I’ll call Mr. S here, who introduced the change to help me break a vicious cycle of waking up shaken every morning and problems with generalised anxiety, depression and exhaustion.

I’ve had solid morning routines for many years but no set evening routine. My natural evening routine is to hang out on my computer till late and then drop dead in my bed when sleep overwhelms me.

Mr. S said my brain is still highly stimulated when I go to sleep like that, and that’s what triggers nightmares and in fact keeps anxiety levels high 24/7 in a vicious cycle. “The anxiety level never gets down to normal”. “You need to turn off all the lights in your brain before you go to sleep, just like you turn off all the lights in the house”.  

“You need to turn off all the lights in your brain before you go to sleep, just like you turn off all the lights in the house”.

 
The medicine for the vicious cycle of constant over-stimulation is to set & keep a proper evening routine.

The routine means to turn off all screens – laptop, tablet, TV***, at least an hour before bedtime to give the brain enough time to wind down before going to sleep. Running or other stimulating physical activity is also ruled out during that time.

The wind-down time begins with a Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence, and the rest of the time before going to sleep can only be spent on low-stimulation activities like reading books and listening to music.   

It isn’t as easy as it may sound. I absolutely hate to interrupt what I am doing, and I am highly likely to be deeply engaged in a computer activity when the “Wind Down” alarm bell rings****. Leaving something incomplete feels like a big gap – I can’t just forget about it. I know I’ll sleep much better if I finish it, because otherwise it will keep roaming in my mind. I’m also somewhat unlikely to be able to continue another time (hence my huge backlog of abandoned projects, including drafts to blog posts).

But I also know I need to wake up early tomorrow… and that I need to keep the evening routine. So it is a bit of a battle between me & myself with conflicting interests, but it does work. I have been keeping the new routines for almost 2 months now (largely), and noticed the positive change after about a month:

I’m calmer with more sense of stability and control. It is (slightly) easier to start the day early and keep days structured and productive. Few mornings begin with “shell shock”. I have few nightmares. And I am reading books during the wind-down hour and beyond, and really enjoy it and learn stuff. My so called Internet addiction has lost some of its foothold.

So, there it is … Time to wind down and time to read books, undistracted by the Internet.

 
clipart of read night lamp and book

 
Little tricks to get book reading on track

At last I’ll mention that, ironically, a social media platform has proved hugely helpful in getting my book reading on track; namely the book sharing platform GoodReads where I set up a Reading Challenge as one of my objectives for this year to motivate myself to read books.

A Reading Challenge is just a public commitment to read a specific number of books within a year. It then “monitors” the progress towards the goal by displaying the updates visually with a progress bar. I find progress bars highly motivating.

 

print screen of progress bar of goodreads reading challenge 2013
Yay, a progress bar!

 
I wasn’t too ambitious when I set it up: 10 books for all of 2013 (I’ll exceed that), but it works beautifully as a motivator.

And here is a progress bar for each book that I am Currently Reading:

 

currently reading widget showing 3 books with progress bars
More progress bars, Yay Yay Yay!

 

Additional helpful functions of GoodReads and other book sharing platforms is the ease of finding books to read via the recommendations, the matching of one’s book preferences with other people’s, the to-read list, book reviews and social network features. I’ve grown quite fond of this service.

 
Why I buy books

The last way I’m helping myself to rebuild a book-culture, is that I buy the books that I read. Most books are not expensive to buy online, and I like the idea of paying for the books. Authors need food too, and it feels nice to know that writing books is a profession, or at least a semi-profession (probably hard to live from).

I also buy books because I like to personalise my reading by writing notes in the margins. I also like that I can read the books as many times I like and look passages up whenever I want to. And it just feels good to own books. And also, I don’t need to fear the library fines for late returns.

 
Clipart 1913 black and white, lady sits under tree and reads book

 
Ps. A warm thanks to Openclipart.com for all the great free illustrations used to illustrate this post and many others.

PPs. Ironically, I failed to keep my evening routine in my keeness to finish this post. “I just need 15 more minutes, then I’ll be done”, and the hours flew past.

 

* Except if they are library books, of course
** Handwritten notebook with hand drawn illustrations and maps et.c.
*** I don’t actually watch TV, but in principle. Also, it obviously rented and purchased movies too.
*** Useless detail: it is a duck-sound and not actually the sound of a bell.

 

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11 thoughts on “Book Reading Routines and the Internet

  1. Ashana M

    I have a problem with this too. I cannot find an evening routine that turns the lights out in my brain. I read books in the same intense way I read the Internet. But you’ve reminded me it’s time to look at this again. I still don’t sleep as soundly or regularly as I would like.

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    1. Mados

      Maybe try a calming physical exercise sequence, like the PMR sequence, or meditation. Or a hot bath or a cup of tea at the same time every evening as a winding down ritual that marks the beginning of the end of the day.

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    2. Mados

      I read books in the same intense way I read the Internet.

      I read books in a more intense way than I read the Internet. I guess the point is that a book keeps your mind on one track. It is usually written by one author that writes in one style all the way through and has one storyline that all the other bits fit into. The layout too is very standard across many different books, and usually just black and white colour nuances.

      Whereas Internet reading tends to be shorter pieces of writing from multiple sources/perspectives (even if it is just one topic) and tend to have links that tempt the reader with the option to stray off to check references, discover connections and read additional information and maybe even surf off to unrelated topics.

      So when you read a book the author has made all the choices for you – like what page to read next – while when you read on the Internet, you are presented with an array of options to choose from all the time.

      Visually, Internet reading it is much more stimulating than book reading too. Websites present in a wide variety of layouts with many different graphic styles and images and colours, and maybe even ads and other distracting elements. Plus, the Internet offers many additional temptations/distractions such as incoming personal communication and social media.

      Also, as I understood it, looking at a screen is in itself highly stimulating for the brain, whether it is a computer screen or a TV screen. I think. Maybe I should have asked more questions. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the time:-)

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      1. Ashana M

        Great points. I shall bear that in mind. I do actually think just the light of the screen induces wakefulness. It’s just books are longer, and harder to put down. But I think overall you’re right.

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        1. Mados

          I am eyeing a market for boring books:-)

          Joke aside, if books are too much of a hook for you and you already read a lot anyway, then alternative, somewhat tedious activities like practising scales on the piano* or knitting or drawing might work better.

          * with headphones … if you have an electronic piano. Otherwise it may not be such a good idea, depending on how late it is.

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  2. Shelley DuPont

    I’m terrible when it comes to organization and routines. It keeps me from being as productive as I’d like to be. I took a 30 day challenge (Early to Rise) with a bit of skepticism. The premise was that if you commit to getting up a few minutes early that you have more control of the remainder of your day. I was a bit skeptical, but it worked. Not only was I able to exceed my goal, my day was more organized and I began to go to bed before or by 10 p.m., the suggested time. No television or internet at least an hour prior. I’ve also been able to re-establish my book reading, too.

    As you say, the internet can prove problematic in many areas. Several times, I’ve deactivated my Facebook account for that very reason. I’ve since enrolled in an online writing course that demands a certain amount of online interaction, especially having a blog to stretch those writing muscles. Also, many of the people in the group gather through FB or Google +. I’m learning that I don’t need to engage in every conversation or read every article. We become so easily conditioned.

    I enjoyed this post and look forward to your next.

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    1. Mados

      Thank you. I hadn’t heard about the Early to Rise challenge (just looked it up now). I understand your scepticism, but as mentioned I found the GoodRead book challenge useful, so I can understand that online challenges can be mobilising … “Whatever works!” 🙂

      I try to keep a structure where I wake up around 6-7 am and wrap up the day around 21.00 in order to go to sleep around 22 – 23 (or at least before midnight!). It is obviously connected… it is hard to wake up at 6 am after going to bed at 5.30 am;-)

      I have an elaborate morning routine (that also involves a dog walk/run, so it isn’t my routine only…). I aren’t quite ready to face to day without it, so if I don’t wake up late then I get my workday started really late.

      I don’t think I have much of a problem with social media platforms like Facebook (I do with blog comments;-), but that is maybe because people rarely post something interesting. Also, I have muted probably 95% of my facebook network in my news feed because they posted boring stuff like party pictures, games and quizzes, and what-I-am-doing-right-now-and-who-I-am-together-with type of status updates. So there are not many news in my news stream:-)

      I like Google+, but there is hardly anyone there that I know, so I rarely use it. I share to Twitter via the smartbuttons on articles et.c., but rarely actually go to Twitter and read the stream.

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  3. musingsofanaspie

    Your new layout is lovely! Very easy on the eyes and visually pleasing. I’ve been reading your book reviews on my phone reading app and enjoying them. Combined road trip/illness has kept me from commenting. 😦

    I’ve had a night time reading routine pretty much all my life. I have trouble falling asleep if I don’t have a book (or New Yorker magazine) that I can pick up and read at least a few pages of. Some nights I might read 50 pages, but most nights it only takes 10 or so before the melatonin starts to kick in.

    Turning off screens is important to getting to sleep – the light from a screen stimulates the waking part of your brain and delays the release of melatonin, artificially delaying your natural sleep cycle/urge. So in addition to what your husband said, there is a biological factor at work. Oh look, random useless fact is useful! 🙂

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