How much I read is inversely proportional to how much I scroll. Between 2018 and March 2020, I was scrolling less and reading more. I followed my own rules. And then every thing changed. And when I say everything I am not using hyperbole. You know this as well as I do.
I started working from home full-time. My partner started working from home full-time. The 15 people I supervise at work started working from home full-time, and none of us really knew how to do it. My home office became not the place where I dressed myself and did our budgetting and occasionally tried to write and then stopped trying. It became a small cocoon of almost all you do.
David Sedaris said recently “Everywhere I go it smells the same, and it smells like my breath.” I can’t stop rolling that over in my mind. Like a finger on a bruise, a tongue to a torn tooth socket. Everywhere I go is hardly anywhere. My paths have been circumscribed in a way I never saw coming. Everywhere I go is mostly my home office. And it does smell like my breath: my farts, my unbrushed hair, and stinking armpits, too.
My mental life has felt similarly constrained. Instead of tearing through books, I am scrolling past curated Insta feeds and the dubious bon mots of Twitter, which all basically say the same. We are fucked we are trying to feel normal we are ignoring the problem I am fucked no you are fucked no you are fucked. Instead of spreading my mind around to live briefly in the minds of all sorts of different types of people in all sorts of different countries, instead of really sitting with them and the arc of their lives for 300 pages, I am flicking my thumb mindlessly and obsessively up a tiny shiny rectangle. For sometimes hours. Often in the office that smells like my breath.
I’ve been here before, and I’ve stopped it, switched those gears before, but my god it is hard. And takes a will I’m not sure 2020 will allow me. In both 2018 and 2019, I read over 100 books. To to that takes time. I took that time almost solely from the minutes that built into hours that I spent on Instagram and Twitter. This year, I might hit 50 books. That is a stark difference.
It’s not like I think more books makes me a better person. If I were to read 100 books three years in a row no one would love me more. The people who love me love me no matter how many books I read, and the people who don’t like me can go hang.
But more scrolling does make me a worse version of myself. It makes me scared, it makes me jealous, it makes me only able to absorb tiny bites of info. Only able to skim. I can’t remember anything, can’t sustain my attention for more than 10 minutes.
If I were reading half as much because I was doing something that I knew to be useful or believed to be beautiful (sorry William Morris) then I wouldn’t be writing this post. Or I would be writing a different post telling you how great my Vietnamese was coming along.
Sadly, as far as I can tell, at least for me, there is no better option than to just. stop. For me, there is only the calculation that makes me suddenly see how all this doomscroll adds up to nothing and makes me realize that is not enough.