Not Reading But Scrolling…

One week into my new job and daily commute into London and I can say two things with certainty: the job is really interesting and I will be surrounded by lovely people; and the railway service has deteriorated dramatically in the 15 years or so since I last had to commute regularly.

Perhaps a third certainty is that it will be difficult to not deplete my wallet when I have to pass by Waterstone’s Gower Street every day.

The reading time on my commute is a bonus, although it is not quite as long as I had envisaged. It is not uninterrupted time, as I have to change from train to Tube – and in the latter I am so squished, it is often impossible to find a bar to clutch on to and to take out a book. But even in the train, I have found myself using Wifi to check emails and Twitter rather than reading. If I were kind with myself, I would say it’s just to save time and not have to check on these things when I get home to my boys (and because I don’t check them during the day at work).

But the truth is somewhat more complex.

I wonder if all this frantic scrolling down the timeline for a joke, some wit, some precious gem of information is all about searching for something to fill a yearning abyss inside of me that I deny in my moments of strength and dare not measure in my moments of weakness.

Instead of abseiling down the abyss to explore further – too dangerous – or expressing its beautiful unknowability through poetry – too difficult, the chances of succeeding are too slender – I look away from it. I seek to distract myself, or look for someone else who might have expressed it for me. But I am far more likely to find that directly in books rather than mediated via social media. At its worst, I sometimes think Twitter is a lot of noise about art instead of that inner and outer quiet necessary for interacting with the art itself. [I almost said ‘communing with the art’, but that sounds terribly old-fashioned.]

What do you think? Do you feel that social media helps you avoid those complex, potentially unpleasant or dangerous thoughts?

37 thoughts on “Not Reading But Scrolling…”

  1. Hah! Twitface is something I avoid with a passion. The long form of (for me) anonymous review blogging suits me and is the nearest I come to social. It just all seems (well, Twitter particularly) empty mouthing into space.

    1. Ah, but it’s via Twitter that I discover some wonderful blogs and book reviews… I suppose like any tool, it’s a matter of how you use it. I saw people walking down the platform and up the stairs with their eyes glued to their phones – can’t believe the addiction!

  2. I do hope the enjoyment of work and colleagues outweighs the commuter misery. Some time ago I read a book called The Shallows by Nicholas Carr in which he discusses how our brains become addicted to distraction through Twitter and the like, impairing our concentration and setting up a craving for clickbait. Utterly convincing – I recognised my own behaviour all too well. The good news is that thanks to the plasticity of our brains we can put it right by changing those clicking habits.

    1. It is highly addictive – also the likes, the shares etc. Counting – that’s why Fitbit and things like that work too. That dopamine must be stroked and stoked up daily! When I see people walking like zombies with their eyes on their phones all the time (even up and down stairs), I am convinced it’s like a drug.

  3. Whilst I agree with your views about the shallowness of social media, personally it is through Twitter that I have found all the blogs I follow, or learn of new releases I didn’t know were available. However I do sail into the abyss quite often & have recently found myself tackling behemoths & indecipherable tomes. I think that’s my escape from the social media sphere – bring on Tristram Shandy or the Fairie Queene any day of the week!!

    1. Same here – so I am grateful for it! And lots of interesting articles that I might not otherwise have been aware of. I remember the days at the coalface of social science research, when I had to trek through journals in the library and even microfiche on occasion…

  4. I think that social media is a double edged sword. It can be wonderfully distracting, sometimes to the point of time seeming having flittered by, so sucked in can you get. But is also a microcosm of emotion, both good and bad. And unfortunately the bad inevitably slips in. I’m trying to curb my social media time. I’m winning, though by a slim margin, the fear of missing out.

    I think you can justify your Twitter splurge on the tube for the initial reasons you give, to save time for your sons later. Reading on the commute is something I envy. And reading a little on the commute is better than not at all 😊 Glad to hear the job is going well.

    1. Today I forgot my book at home so I had nothing to read but Twitter on the train in the morning! Luckily, I went to the library at lunchtime and got out a massive tome which I read quite happily on the way back.

  5. I can find social media overwhelming – especially Facebook. I do love Twitter for the book blogs I follow and the little gems that pop up now and again. Pleased to hear you’re enjoying your new job 🙂

    1. I’m hardly ever on Facebook – I find it more of a platform for showing off rather than for genuine sharing of resources. With Twitter (or perhaps with the people I follow and because I choose to ignore things which might upset me), I get access to some nice articles and book reviews and discover new blogs.

  6. I’ve actually found myself doing the reverse in times of stress or weakness: diving so deeply into books that I don’t have to use any brain power on considering my own situation. Twitter and social media generally force me to think about the world around me, so they don’t function well as escapism for me! Interesting. (Also interesting, though probably not surprising, that the books I often choose to escape into are “genre” in some way, usually spy novels or YA fantasy from my adolescence.)

  7. I’m glad you feel your new job will go well, Marina Sofia. As to social media? I like the connection I feel with others; I really do. That said, though, I do believe it’s hard to connect with our own selves when we spend too much time there. And I think we need to connect with both others and ourselves. Missing either one can be a problem.

  8. I do a lot of my reading on public transport during the week, mostly on the bus theses days, it’s slow but allows me time to read….except when people are listening to video clips or music through their speakers which seems to happen all the time these days. I had to travel partly by train over the last two weeks so didn’t have time for any substantial reading, so like you I spent the time checking emails, news, blogs etc.

    I sometimes wonder if reading is not just a distraction, something that is done to avoid living fully….

    1. Hmmm, I am sure at times I have used reading as an escape… But it also invites me to reflect more deeply upon my own thoughts, life and beliefs. Perhaps not immediately, but in time.

  9. I’m a bit like you these days. Ever since this thing with my eyes happened. Before that, it was reading. Possibly a bit like Jonathan says above.
    But I’m glad your job is interesting and the people nice. I cannot imagine to commute. It would drive me bonkers.

    1. The first week of commuting was tough because I was not used to it (I used to commute more by plane – where at least you have a seat guaranteed and don’t have to lug your luggage all the way). But I think I’ll get used to it once more. After all, I did it for years and years…

  10. Well, I empathise – I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with social media. I like the interaction and the info, and I spend far too long watching YouTube videos at times, then I find I’m telling myself off for wasting the time and not reading more. Never mind – I suppose a natural balance will eventually sort itself out. I do remember in my younger years when I had two 25 minute commutes a day on the train that I used to get so much reading done…. :s

    1. Certainly more suitable than those people who listen to video clips on speakers! Mind you, I got my own back by humming all the tunes from the Dreigroschenoper (I had borrowed a volume of Brecht to read on the way home).

  11. Great to hear things are going well at your new job. As for obsessive scrolling on social media, we’re all guilty of that. One cure is to take the app you’re most addicted to off your phone for a while. You might find you don’t miss it.

  12. Delighted to hear that the new job is going well in spite of the variable commute – fingers crossed that the train service will improve at some point. As for social media, I’ve been trying to cut back on the amount of time spent on twitter this year, mostly because of lack of time due to other things. I do miss some of the interaction though, chatting about books and films etc.

    1. Yes, it has its pros and cons. I do miss the easy conversations and feel I am rushing through things and reading blogs more superficially. Perhaps things will settle once I get into a routine, although I have a secret hope that things will get even busier (fingers crossed, will let you know if that happens).

  13. I cannot “keep up” with email so I’ve chosen not to join Twitter. But I like connecting with old friends on fb! It can be addictive so we need to put away phones for real conversations and personal quiet time.

  14. Glad to hear you’re enjoying the job so far – hurrah! I don’t read Twitter much – I’m very lazy about it. I tend to just spout my own outrage about today’s horror story and then log off. However, I do spend ridiculous amounts of time reading and chatting on blogs, and I know I partly do that to feel more connected with other humans – I have a tendency to be too hermit-like in real life.

  15. Marina, glad you’re already in your job and enjoying it too. I mostly read during train commute though I do wish I could either leave my phone, especially one with internet connection, behind or toss it out of the window. It’s a terrible distraction.

  16. I have been known to take most apps off my phone (I don’t do Twitter at all), but the key is to have a crappy wifi and a very very old phone! Good luck for the job and a commute. Nice colleagues is definitely a benefit.

  17. I completely sympathise about your commute. I moved jobs 10 months ago and so my commute changed from train & tube to bus & tube. I don’t miss Southern rail at all – appalling.

    I’m not sure about twitter stifling the abyss but I see so many people on the commute playing candy crush, and I’ve frequently wondered if they are desperately trying to crowd out any possible time for thinking and reflection from thier brains….

    Glad the new job is going well 🙂

  18. Glad to hear your job is interesting and your colleagues nice to work with. Those two traits are very positive and bode well for the future.
    I don’t think reading is a distraction from life. It enhances our lives, giving us a much wider understanding of the world, of other people. It encourages compassion. It is a distraction and escape from world events that some of us would like to avoid for part of the day. But it’s a win-win on all fronts. It’s just finding the right books for the moment.
    I’ve been reading light books to escape from the madness going on around here.
    But books are a form of art, like music, paintings, sculpture and so much more, to be enjoyed.
    And social media. I love to read blogs and Twitters about reading and some other topics. I read and watch enough news so that when I look at much social media, it’s to read about books and other diversionary topics.
    I wasn’t on Facebook until a few months ago, and it’s interesting. It’s an outlet to discuss issues, and to connect with people, but it doesn’t take the place of actually seeing and talking to people — socializing. We all need it to some degree.

    1. Ah, nothing like a positive take on this, thank you, Kathy! I believe reading is very beneficial too – but perhaps not the superficial kind of quick nugget reading which social media fosters. I know for sure I read about a greater breadth of subjects nowadays, but perhaps in lesser depth. Still, I would miss Twitter and blogging if I didn’t have them.

  19. I have noticed that I have turned to social media for some light and optimism of lately. And I aslo must admit that I succeeded: I have compilled a list of youtubers whose videos help me relax and see things from another perspective at the end of the day. Meanwhile, all of you on Twitter keep me less ‘alone’ whenever you share anything about long working hours, not having enough time to read, etc.

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