Since we posted our annual Best Books of the Year review yesterday morning, I thought this recent post over at Harvard Business Review was appropriate. Literary technologist Hugh McGuire describes the constant barrage of digital information day in and day out:
I was distracted when at work, distracted when with family and friends, constantly tired, irritable, and always swimming against a wash of ambient stress induced by my constant itch for digital information. My stress had an electronic feel to it, as if it was made up of the very bits and bytes on my screens. And I was exhausted.
To his horror, he realized that his constant immersion in this easy, instantaneous web of mental overstimulation caused him to
read just four books in all of 2014. That’s one book a quarter. A third of a book per month. I love reading books. Books are my passion and my livelihood. I work in the world of book publishing. I’m the founder of LibriVox, the largest library of free public domain audiobooks in the world; and I spend most of my time running Pressbooks, an online book production software company. I might have an unpublished novel in a drawer somewhere. I love books. And yet, I wasn’t reading them. In fact, I couldn’t read them. I tried, but every time, by sentence three or four, I was either checking email or asleep.
Drawing on new neuroscience research, McGuire points out that the constant novelty triggers the release of dopamine, conditioning us to continually seek out potential pleasure in new things (e.g. new emails, Facebook updates, etc.). This constant bouncing around between topics also depletes our brain’s energy. McGuire suggests three rules by which we can diminish the stress of information overload and learn to read again:
- When you get home from work, put away the laptop and iPhone.
- After dinner, don’t turn on Netflix, the TV, or the Internet.
- No glowing screens in the bedroom (Kindle is ok).
While I don’t do these exactly, I have made a rule of “no iPhone or Internet one hour before bed.” I finally have a set bedtime every night before work. Granted, I’ve only been doing this for about a week or so, but I can already feel a difference. If you saw anything in our Best Books post that you would like to read, but just can’t seem to find the time, give the rules above a try.