One year ago I stopped reading. I thought it was making me too productive. I thought it lacked pictures. I thought it was “corrupting my eyespheres.”
It’s a been a year now since I “read a blog” or “checked my email” or “was able to put quotation marks around things that didn’t need quotation marks”. I’ve managed to stay blind and ignorant, just like I planned. I’m reading free.
And now I’m supposed to tell you how it solved all my problems. I’m supposed to be less enlightened. I’m supposed to be more “real,” now. More perfectly unaware of the world around me.
It’s been a long year. I’ve spent the last 365 days with my eyes hidden beneath an opaque sleep mask in order to prevent my inadvertently reading something even as innocuous as the little Ms on M&Ms. It wasn’t easy. Even silk chafes after a few months.
Most of my time was spent listening to the radio, listening to the television, listening to my wife ask me what the hell was wrong with me, listening to my boss call me an attention whore before throwing me out of his office, and listening to the sirens of the paramedics appear on the scene of a seven car pileup after I inadvertently wandered onto the highway one night in a desperate attempt to satiate my ice cream craving. Let me tell you, Mr. Magoo cartoons were sorely lacking in the details of the aftermaths of his aimless wanderings.
My plan was to do my job, listen to books, write books commissioned by high-falootin’ New York publishers, and wallow in my spare time. In one glorious gesture I’d outdo all quarter-life crises to come before me. I’d find the real Harry, far away from all the words, and become a better me. Which wouldn’t be hard to do, considering old Harry came up with this stupid plan in the first place.
So, around this time last year, I packed away all my books, turned off my computer, hid my iPhone, and covered my eyes before completely disconnecting from the written world. In hindsight, I probably should’ve showered and dressed myself the night before. That first morning was a nightmare. How was I supposed to know sweatpants, a Skynyrd t-shirt, a striped tie, and a parka do not constitute office-appropriate attire?
But as my head uncluttered, my attention span expanded. Before I started this, 10 pages of The Odyssey would’ve been a slog. Now I didn’t have to read it at all. Suck it, high school English. I ignored your mandatory reading list then and I was ignoring it now. The movie told me everything I needed to know anyway. I think. It got hard to follow after about 15 minutes and when I got up to go to the bathroom, I walked right into a wall and rendered myself unconscious for the remainder of the film.
When I first started, I thought I had it all figured out. After all, reading wasn’t that important, was it? So what if we’re surrounded by words everywhere we go, nearly all the information in the world is written down, and people work tirelessly to make that information available 24/7? This experiment was meant to prove three things:
Yes, it’s hard to search for porn on the Internet when you’re not able to find the search box. I tried putting my Mac into VoiceOver mode, but it made trips to the local Starbucks very awkward. Nothing scars the average soccer mom like hearing a robotic female voice announce the search results for Lawrence of a Labia, Romancing the Bone, and the accidentally-clicked-on Batman in Robin. Yes, accidentally.
But one big change was snail mail. I used to become filled with such joy at seeing my mailbox stuffed with letters from readers. It’s something tangible that I can’t seem to shred enough of, no matter how hard I try. Seriously, in an age of nearly all-digital communication, I find myself constantly drowning in a sea of fliers and catalogs I don’t remember signing up for. But it wasn’t all bad.
In neatly spaced, precisely adorable lettering (I’m told), one girl wrote on a physical piece of paper: “Thank you for giving up reading.” Not as an insult, but as a compliment. And I hated that little girl. Weren’t you paying attention? I gave up reading. Why would you write a letter to someone who cannot read it? HAVE YOU NOT HEARD OF VOICEMAIL, CHILD?
I would’ve felt bad for not writing back, but fuck her. She knew what this was.
“But how did you learn about current events without Twitter or blogs or newspapers?” First off, weird disembodied quote - newspapers are still around? Hmm, I thought those would’ve died out by now. Secondly, I used the power of television news to catch up on the world’s events. Who needs to choose Twitter or cable news when CNN is able to kill two birds with one enormous, misinformed boulder? Speaking of, early on in the Boston bombing coverage I misplaced the remote, so could someone tell me what happened to the dark-skinned male John King told me to watch out for? Was he arrested? Does anyone know?
The main thing I’ve taken away from this
stunt experiment is that words are everywhere. It’s pointless to try to pretend they don’t exist or that you can escape them because you can’t. They’re a part of our culture. They make knowledge accessible to almost everyone on the planet. We can limit our intake of words and we can reduce our dependence on them, but we can’t get rid of them forever. At some point, we just have to accept that words exist and unless we’re willing to move to a remote location in the jungle where the natives have never seen words before, we’re stuck with them.
It shouldn’t have taken such a drastic change to come to such an obvious conclusion, but I’m a child of the Internet. If I’ve learned anything from YouTube comments and Twitter, it’s that when I believe something, I believe that thing to as far left or right as I can go. There is no gray area. Nuance is for pussies. If I’m going to teach myself a lesson, it’s going to be by doing something insanely stupid and pointless.
When I return to reading, I might not read well. I might waste time with Us Weekly, or get distracted, or fall straight into the endless abyss of Wikipedia links. I won’t have as much time to dick around with real life or introspection or watching Bravo TV.
But at least I’ll be informed. And I won’t have to worry about freaking out the squares at Starbucks.