Content Nausea

(and the lack of immersed reading)

In the course of trying to consider writing this short piece, I have been distracted over 10 times. First by the Amoeba Records web series “What’s in My Bag” (because who wouldn't want to know what Bootsy Collins would buy at a record shop),

and later by songs having to do with the band Small Maps as well as the song Five Minutes (made by Collins and Harrison of the Talking Heads), made in response to Reagan making jokes about Bombing Russia in 5 minutes.

This is nothing new for me in the age of internet tabs and constant streams of new entertaining information. Often, when I am going to be procrastinating anyway, or thinking about what I want to say in writing this isn’t an issue. The problem is when it becomes detrimental to getting things done that require deep concentration and thought.

Parquet Courts sum up this tension nicely in their song “Content Nausea” off of their 2014 release of the same name.

“Content, that’s what you’d call it
An infant screaming in every room in your gut
Bets strum on an intention but best left unattended
How gathered the pixels in the dust of the digital age to our being

With what do I wash?
Put on some music
My friend walks the same path every day
Steep the stairwell, cognizance to coma

Ignoring best he can
An inconvenient reality
The consequential chore that unfolds in the naked sprint from screen to screen”

While this song touches mostly on our use of technology in everyday life and how it is happening artistry and concentration, I think these lines are especially telling when it comes to talking about reading. Reading has been aversely changed by computers, tablets and phones. In our search for the new stream, the new content, it has become increasingly difficult to concentrate and read deeply on the web. It has become a chore to do so, both in normal print form, and on the screen.

Digitally, reading has quickened, but gotten way more shallow and time consuming. Every time I read digitally it is much less deeply and quicker than on print. I find whenever I read now I am constantly searching for additional information. It is so easy to search, so easy to find definitions, related content, and mindless articles that it is hard to remain focused on the task at hand.

That being said, reading digital allows for greater spatial understanding of a piece, as searching for related content can yield greater results on why or how something is the way it is. Providing context of history, people, places etc. Did you know that Rick Ross was never really a big time drug king pin, but was in fact instead a correctional facility officer?

The more you know! Additionally, reading online allows for the embedded media that can help enhance a text and make it both more informational, and entertaining! Another problem with digital reading is clickbait and other content devoid posts. I am sick of seeing slideshows that are impossible to load, and have a sentence on each slide of useless information that just generates ad revenue for the host.

The advantages of reading in print are still vast when it comes to academic reading, and other longer articles and pieces of writing. I could never read a book digitally, as it is too much to scroll through, has no tactile feel, and would just be too hard on the eyes after awhile. Sadly I do not nor have ever owned a kindle or a kindle type device, but reading on computer screens is very difficult in large sections compared to reading text. When I do read on screen I think I get distracted way more often, and find myself usually doing about 15 minutes of reading for every 10 minute tangent, which is very inefficient. I would probably enjoy my free time and have greater free time if during my digital work I was able to focus more. There are apps that try to achieve this by shutting down your internet browsers for certain set increments of time, but they are clumsy and inefficient when everyone has smart phones.

That being said, I do not think the Internet has vastly changed the way I read physical text, just the amount I read it. When I still read books, or magazine articles on paper, I find that often I can still be just as immersed as I would be pre smart phone. The problem lies in instead getting the impetus to pick up the text in the first place. With so much content available to me picking up a physical work can be extremely difficult to initiate. That is where phones come in. I get distracted by my phone way more frequently before I start reading than during it. It’s just something else to check that can prolong the inevitable of sitting down and reading.

I think that there needs to be a discussion about the importance of physical reading, and deep reading before it gets put to the side as a nuisance to overall culture. I think a big part of the is doing all academic reading in a physical form (or have a dedicated device to reading such as a black and white kindle). To me, this creates a culture of deep reading that will help in academic environments create greater participation. With reading physically it is way easier to grasp larger concepts and find more detail than would be grasped in normal content.

Not only that, but getting immursed in a good article or book is a more pleasurable experience than skimming the surface, and is something that digital reading struggles to achieve in comparison. When I get immersed and don’t stop reading, It’s when something really resonates and becomes important. Creating greater opportunities for that to happen is important even if we begin to skim more information. This is why reading print is important, and why if it is approached from this angle could still is the most useful in 2015. So all and all, things are going to be OK as long as we promote this aspect of reading in print.

(This article is written in this style as a representation of what writing/reading on the web often devolves into).