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Eternal Sunshine of the Empty Minds: Why We Should Read More

Eternal Sunshine of the Empty Minds: Why We Should Read More

A pile of books sits on a wooden dressing table. The top book is titled 'The Doors Of Perception'

It’s a problem that plagues us all to some degree. We start doing something only to let our minds wander off. Then we forget what it is we’re doing and move onto something else. In extreme moments we even forget where and even who we are.

But it’s not (hopefully) a horrific brain tumour or an onset of Alzheimer’s that’s ailing us, it’s a mutated form of attention deficit disorder that a huge amount of us suffer from these days. We live in a society that’s gone long strides beyond the MTV generation. Our pace of life is even faster and now boasts ever more goldfish like traits.

It’s a social media riddled, instantly forgettable, throwaway society, with less need for serious attention span, or memory capability. Or maybe we’re just becoming incapable of it.

Our brains are slowly becoming redundant, as we starve them of mental stimulation and have them rely on technical means to help us. Our main forms of storage don’t require mental capacity but rather computer hard drives or more likely up in a cloud somewhere; they do the job for us.

It seems like only high achieving students and the Derren Brown’s of this world have sufficient attention spans that enable them to store masses of information. So why are people suffering from this ever increasing goldfish syndrome? Could it in large part be the fact we’ve substituted one of life’s staples, that of reading a humble book, with more instantly fulfilling pursuits?

Goldfish with open mouth
Goldfish syndrome

The number of regular readers under the age of thirty has dropped over the last ten years. Thinking about it (not for very long of course) why in the age we live in, do we need books? Especially when we can flick on the TV or power up the PlayStation and let our brains descend into a beautiful stupor.

Why shouldn’t we switch on to switch off, life’s hard, we deserve some escapism. Once upon a time seemingly many moons ago, books were our tool to escape, a way to give us some brief respite from our pathetic little existences.

But our ever increasingly vacuous minds just can’t cope with big bulks of text anymore, that’s why most people just read tweets now instead. Why tax yourself with page upon page when 140 characters can say so much.

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”  Groucho Marx

The main device that must be initially attributed to our loss of attention span and therefore the demise of the book is surely TV. Research has shown that the amount we watch directly affects our concentration span.

All this isn’t to say watching TV can’t be informative like a book, of course, The MALESTROM once learnt how to make a fully functioning space rocket out of a washing up liquid bottle and some sticky back plastic, but the concentration levels required when watching TV are tiny when compared to reading.

On the whole, most programmes don’t teach us a great deal, how much do we really learn from watching Simon Cowell salivating over yet another dancing dog? Or from Ant and Dec laughing at someone pissing in a jungle?

Possibly some rudimentary rules about hygiene with the latter, but little else. Admittedly there are culture fixes for us within the medium. Watching some jazzy re-vamping of Shakespeare or some literary classic gives us the delusion we have bettered ourselves in some way.

But watching an overpaid soap actor who’s more dickhead than Dickens, trying to pronounce words he’ll never understand, can’t really be helping us as much as thumbing the shows paper-based namesake can it?

In recent years they’ve even brought out books specifically tailored for those who are challenged in the attention span department. Drip feeding the masses words in easy to digest bite-size chunks. Takeaway literature for all.

In our heart of hearts though, we know that books are important. They may seem like an antiquated rarity, but we will always need them. Learning will continue through various systems, but no computer can ever replicate the organic feel of ink on paper and the tactile nature of reading.

Books are part of a global heritage that may soon represent a lifeline to the past. And after the next millennium bug has made our hard drives floppy or our smartphones have come down with some fatal virus, they might just be all we have left. So maybe we should try and re-engage with the written word for the sakes of our rapidly fading attention spans.

Maybe we should swap our texts for text before it’s all too late. Or maybe we should just all accept our fates; collapse on the sofa in front of the X-Factor as we stoke up the wood burning stove with a copy of War and Peace.

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