This is another quote from that Clay Shirky interview I re-blogged earlier (which now, weirdly, seems to be gone? Thank the good lord for InstaPaper). This is a subject I’ve thought about so much. Until about the age of 30, I read fiction constantly. Henry Miller seemed interesting for a minute and then a year later I’d read 12 of his books, some of which were like 700 pages long. And most of them, I didn’t even like very much. But I read them because it was something to do. There were many hours to fill and plowing through The Rosy Crucifixion was one way to fill them.
Which is another way of saying that I used to read many more books and I loved reading more books but one of the main reasons I did so is because it was a good way to pass the time. I thought of myself as a writer and I’ve always loved to read, so on some level I knew it was good for me to read as much as I could. But I mostly did it because there honestly wasn’t all that much going on. I was staving off boredom. And I haven’t been anything close to bored in 10 years, at least. Not making value judgements here, just thinking about how things have changed in my lifetime. I’m glad I got that reading in.
But a book is a “momentary stay against confusion.” This is something quoted approvingly by Nick Carr, the great scholar of digital confusion. The reading experience is so much more valuable now than it was ten years ago because it’s rarer. I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”
It was only later that I realized the value of being bored was actually pretty high. Being bored is a kind of diagnostic for the gap between what you might be interested in and your current environment. But now it is an act of significant discipline to say, “I’m going to stare out the window. I’m going to schedule some time to stare out the window.” The endless gratification offered up by our devices means that the experience of reading in particular now becomes something we have to choose to do.