A POWER OUTAGE! Imagine: there’s no power and so, no light no heat. This is before WiFi and before digital gadgets. But it’s not too cold to have a flashlight under the covers and an open book. Do you sense a little stir of nostalgia, longing for that young bibliophile you once were?
Try it out again. Pick up a book you received at Christmas or for a birthday and crack it open. Or, if you did not receive a book, find one forgotten somewhere behind a ready-on light.
Old skills are still around and some are reviving. Not just reading under a duvet but also lace making, vegetable canning, letter press printing, orchid cultivation, soap and candle making, beehive and bird house construction, reading for pleasure, even re-reading books that once entranced.
Reading print on bluescreens is a kind of reading with many benefits. It would be almost impossible now to be in the book writing, editing, publishing trade without the internet. But online activity is also very distracting and much of it superfluous not to mention its algorithmic power to convince that black is actually white. That online world roughens our humanity with its lack of etiquette and paucity of ethics. Vigilance is required. The power of digital misinformation is a serious risk to democracy. Read the convincing argument against social media by Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, a Noble Prize winner, in How to Stand Up to a Dictator.
Warning: Bold Assertion coming up. Reading on bluescreens diminishes extended concentration. It does not encourage “inwardly digesting”. It does not develop the contemplative gaze as in gazing out a window with a real bookmark between real pages and just feeling your way into what you just read and how it changes you.
That’s what good writing does; any kind of good writing whether fiction, science, history, autobiography, or poetry. It invites slow integration. Reading material on a digital gadget is not amenable to going slower and deeper. Sharing books with friends and family is qualitatively different from forwarding links. Blue screens put you on alert; the printed page invites a slower process.
On a cold winter evening try out the latest (ancient) fad: read aloud to someone.
A century ago, many Anglicans were thought of as “bookish”, a positive connotation signaling “smart/academic/knowledgeable”. Now the connotation is “weird, elite, nerdy, snobbish”. Any Parish Librarian will tell you now; “Oh I wish someone would sign out a book”. Is this just old-fashioned? I’m not the first to suggest that increase in anxiety and hyperactivity may be related to rapid intake of digital information which is neither knowledge nor wisdom.
Like other old skills (embroidery, concocting herbal ointments, book binding) if we don’t practice them, the world loses them. So, leave that book open, slow down and keep a valueable practice fully alive.