Not long ago, in a land requiring a connecting flight to reach, I spent copious hours trying to relax by a mix of playing video games, reading, and occupying space socially networking whilst combing through sports information — when the television was n’t available. It ‘s a wonder ever any work was completed. or thought. Still, if the need to ‘collect my thoughts’ strikes me I might well withdraw into the blank space that is browsing — whether physical or cyberspace pages or channels.
What value is to be found in such activity?
I ‘ve already mentioned I believed and sometimes affirm the idea yet that thinking is stimulated or collectable in these formats. Channels is a good way to consider this. But less time is normally used in finding and re-appropriating information than in floating down-river. Take reading by this analogy: it takes concentration to find relevant landmarks — recalling them is another matter. or justifying the author’s choices. For the majority of my television or internet intake, little is taken in and then put to any use. But a surprisingly small amount of my reading proves useful in the long-term. Each leaves a residue with some sense of ‘I like X about Y’ but little else.
More often much reading is wishing I had composed words in a like matter — or at least had proved to all my thinking’s superiority. Moreso for internet browsing — most of that time was spent reappraising relationships, wishing I had gone places or had other experiences (true of narrative reading sometimes) to share or had achieved some status worthy of showing off. All this while I wait for someone to engage in a round of messaging. You will notice, I hope by now, I am speaking of dead or extremely passive actions in each of these three media.
Too much of my time is and has been spent re-thinking someone else’s thoughts, regardless of my immediate reactions. Interaction is minimised while the intrapersonal dwarfs the interpersonal.
What I would pretend to want is critical engagement. Why else do I read? I read to find out my own mental positions. But as these are reactions, their locations quickly fade from memory. I am caught up in the stream and find myself after the browser is closed or there are no pages left between my right hand and the book jacket, almost nearly exactly where I was before.
Schopenhauer warned us not to read too much, but to formulate for ourselves instead. Interesting that ‘browse’ meant to ‘feed on buds’ — absent critical or interpersonal engagement I find my appetite unsated.
As a monument to this insatiety, I have attempted several times to maintain a list of books read when there is so little to show for the effort paid reading them. While I affirm reading classics is often useful, it is only when my mind is alert that the reading might prove useful. Of course the physical page for focus’ sake is to be lauded in comparison to the online page — it is too easily to be distracted by the anticipation of the next bit of information. If you must read online, your finger-tension on the mouse betrays your true feelings. The allure of the television is what else might be on.
Now I have mentioned inter-personality as a value — and I would defend this position if the opportunity for mental activity in discussion is taken up. And this is perhaps the lone remaining value for most of our internet intake — we share a few moments of having perused the same information and experienced a similar perspective. But most is lost in a sea of unknowing.
And if our thoughts are bound to be swallowed by the waves anyway, whose thoughts should they be?