|added Sun June 06 2004 at 9:45 AM
|I guess I'd forgotten exactly how addicting reading can be. Somehow, I think I've gradually started allowing the computer to take the place of books as the thing that keeps me awake until unearthly hours of the night and morning. As I sit here trying to figure out how that transfer happened, the initial reaction is that I simply didn't have time to read. That's a very logical explanation, except that I didn't really have the time for all the computer activity, either.
My tired yet awake mind turned over the thought of time commitment, and realized that the key word was commitment. When I sit down in front of the computer, there is rarely any reason why I have to say that I will be using it for "x" number of hours. If I get tired, bored, or otherwise occupied, I can almost always abandon the computer at a moment's notice. Or at least, I think I can. The reality of it is slightly different, but the self-rationalization that is so prevalent in my life latches on to that concept. Books, on the other hand, imply a commitment.
When was the last time you picked up a book for pleasure reading without intending to eventually finish it? This isn't including schoolbooks, but the books that you read when you get bored or lonely. Nor does it imply that you *will* finish the book, because sometimes the book isn't as good as you'd hoped. Or you get busy. Or you lose the book. I've had all three happen at various times (sorry about the Lord of the Rings, mom). When I pick up a book, it means that sometime in the foreseeable future, I plan to invest enough time to finish it.
To make my problem worse, I don't have a very good memory for names or specific identifiers. I struggle with long, intricate plots because I lose track of the characters. I can, however, remember concepts and ideas very well. That's why I love math, but hate memorizing formulas. If I read the book in multiple sittings, then I have a tendency of forgetting the names of characters. So I think I try to minimize the number of sittings required to finish off the book. This is especially problematic when you start talking about series. When I read a series that I like, I read it all at the same time. If not all the books are written at the time of my reading, then I'm not nearly as likely to pick up the next book when it comes out. There are obviously exceptions that I can specifically recall, but I spend the first 100-150 pages trying to remember who these people are (something the author usually reminds us of in the first 30-40 pages).
Now, I've picked up a book, that means that I am, at one level or another, making a time commitment. Of course, that doesn't adequately explain why I find myself finishing the book at 4 in the morning. I think that this point is where books and comptuers fill the same role. While I am engaged with either the book or computer, my conscious mind minimizes all functions. Nothing really matters, and if I am aroused from this state long enough to realize how much time has passed, I rationalize that I'll only allow another few minutes of it. I think I've heard psychologists refer to this state as a trance. That's a fairly accurate description. While in this trance, time really has no meaning, and the clock has no power.
It's funny that while I've spent less time in the past year reading, I actually find it more enjoyable for long periods of time. Perhaps this is simply because it's been so long since I've had the pleasure of enjoyable reading. I'm inclined to believe that it's because a good book engages the mind more fully. After playing a computer game for 8 straight hours, usually the mind is completely deadened. The small, repetitive motions involved are enough to require my to be physically alert, but not enough to stimlate a biological response to the movement. While reading, however, the body can be mostly relaxed (I never can quite totally relax, because somehow I have ot hold the book and turn pages). The only body parts strained by reading are the eyes, which are strained even more by the computer.
I guess the important thing for me to do in the future is to never start a book in the afternoon. If it is one that captivates me enough to make me read it cover to cover, then I'd better start it in the morning. If it is not that interesting, I suppose I can always turn on the computer in the evening.