If a book be an ocean, the Internet has turned our reading habits into a series of small wading pools.
That’s the sense I get from this not-quite-a-lament by Carrie Frye:
[T]he Internet for all its virtues and let me interject here and say that I love the Internet, some of my best friends are the Internet, etc. has given me an overly inflated sense of my own ability to learn and appreciate new things. I’ve always liked to read several books at once (do you want to read a book about volcanoes tonight, or a novel? Who knows? Better have them both with you!), but this weekend I counted and I had some twenty books in different stages of being read around the house, ones I felt I couldn’t bear to return to the library or put back on their proper shelves because “I’m reading it.” I’ve fallen into the habit of bringing a stack of three to four into bed with me at night picking them up from around the house as I turn off lights like a grocery shopper ambling through the produce section picking whatever pretty fruit strikes the fancy. On the one hand, thus has it always been people who like books will have books in their bed, will have far more books on their reading list than they will ever finish, etc. On the other, I think when you casually read a couple hundred little news items, interesting posts and articles online in day, it get frightfully easy to carry a glib sense of engagement away with you from the computer to want to click along to the next book whenever you’re bored. And on some deeper level, I wonder if the Internet with its ready and immediate access to anything I want to know, has given me a false sense that I’m capable of knowing it, i.e., that I can suck in all that knowledge like Evil Willow draining books at the magic shop. Even as my reading habits have gotten sloppier, have I come to think I’m someone who’s capable of reading three or four books before bed? That I’ll wake up and suddenly be the man who knew everything? Put another way: If the Internet is infinite, has it made me forget that I’m finite?
I keep two or three books going at any given minute, and I’m not always sure which one I’ll pick back up next. As for the inflated sense of one’s learning capacity, I’m relying on it: the moment I start letting the brain zone out is the moment I transform from merely old and decrepit to old and decrepit and demented, and if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not.
The stack of stuff beside my bed books, magazines, newsletters, what have you is now at least as high as the bed itself; to put something away and shut myself down for the night requires a pronounced stretch.