Reading real books
This morning, my son was preparing for a ‘Virtual Reality’ day at his school. Apparently an external company will be bringing in virtual reality goggles so the children can ‘go back in time’ and visit one of the time periods they’ve been studying. What a fantastic idea and how lucky are they to be able to literally step into a situation and experience it rather than just looking at pictures in dusty old textbooks? As we discussed this, he agreed. ‘It sounds awesome. Have you ever done it?’ I thought about it. ‘Actually, no.’ I’ve seen them (I’m thinking mainly of the Red Dwarf episode where Lister, Cat, Rimmer and Kryten somehow get stuck in an alternate reality for years, if my memory serves) but I’ve never actually worn one. ‘You’ll have to tell me all about it.’
There was huge pity in his big blue eyes. ‘But why haven’t you done it, Mummy? Didn’t they bring them to your school?’ As I smiled at his misplaced concern for his ancient mother’s education, I wondered once again how to find the words to explain to a true digital native what the world looked like before he arrived. I got my first smartphone only months before his birth (in 2012) and the memories of the hours and hours of holding him, learning to breastfeed, wondering why he wouldn’t stop crying and why I seemingly wasn’t allowed to ever put him down were not always, but often, accompanied by a one-handed google search for the answers on my new gadget.
Nearly eight years on, he can’t even contemplate a world in which phones don’t take photographs, so of course it seems off that his mum has never experienced ‘virtual’ reality. Today’s technology is incredible and I would never say we should go back to the Ginn Maths and blackboards of ‘my day’. But every now and then I really feel the need to distance myself from the ever-ready entertainment of my incredible iPhone.
Having worked in print publishing for sixteen years, I’ve seen first-hand the effect that the digital world has had on traditional media. Magazines, once the harbingers of the zeitgeist, are almost irrelevant. Instagram is the new hub of news, trends and talking-points, and influencers its ‘content producers’. The ability to spot a fad at 1,000 paces is as crucial as it ever was; the nous to string a sentence together, much less fact-check or sub it, is apparently redundant. I like Instagram, particularly its generally more positive and supportive vibe (or maybe that’s just the people I follow), though I do find that too much of it produces a sort of mild nausea and a tendency to start structuring my own thoughts in the form of short pithy captions with hashtags. When this happens, I need to cleanse.
How do I do that? Books. Actual books with pages. Usually in bed with a cup of tea (or glass of wine). Old school. And for this to work, I often have to leave my phone in a different room. Smart phones are literally addictive; I don’t need a scientific study to tell me that as I find my internal monologue saying ‘Put it down now. You don't need to look at the hen party photos of the work colleague of a school friend you haven’t seen in twenty years. THIS IS ADDING NO VALUE TO YOUR DAY!’
Since around Christmas/new year time I’ve read the books in the picture; three of them were gifts from people who apparently know me pretty well, two of them were ‘homework’ for my yoga foundation course, and two are (clearly) the kids’ current bedtime choices. Books are one of my favourite gifts to receive. Not only do I get to read something I may not have chosen myself, but I get a little insight into what that person thinks I’d like or want to delve into. And since this blog is about how to spend time well, I have to put reading real books on there. It’s something I’ve done less and less of, since having a smart phone, but by the same token it's something I know I’ll never stop doing. When I lose myself in a really good book there’s no better feeling. It helps with everything: having somewhere to escape to after a tough day, something to look forward to, and, if I really enjoyed it, another author whose back catalogue I can now explore. So: a good book, in bed (why not!), with a nice of glass of something next to me, is ‘thing’ number seven.