I’ve heard it said that a woman’s brain is like a web browser with a million tabs open All. The. Time. While I will make no comment upon the accuracy of this statement, it is entirely true that the amount of tabs open in the actual web browser on my computer (and phone, and tablet) is, shall we say, a bit much. David, my business partner and fiancé, finds my tab-collection habit very frustrating. He has often pointed out (entirely accurately) that many of the tabs are from weeks, or even months ago. There’s no way that they are still relevant. Why don’t I just close them?
The thing is, I can’t close my tabs. There’s content there that I want to get to, eventually. There are articles I want to read, videos I want to watch, podcasts and sermons I want to listen to… there are so many ways I could be pumping more content into my life. More reading. More watching. More listening. And don’t get me started on the stack of books beside my bed. I could definitely be reading those too.
And yet, I find myself doing anything but engaging with the reams of content at my disposal, even if that’s watching the same YouTube video essay I’ve already seen a hundred times. Even if that’s scrolling through Pinterest saving sewing and knitting patterns I’ll probably never get to. Even if that’s collecting even more tabs that I’ll never actually get around to reading. Especially if it’s collecting more tabs.
And all the books on my bedside table sit unread and unenjoyed, because it’s simply easier to keep trudging through the same well-worn internet ruts than to actually sit down and read.
Don’t get me wrong: the internet is a blessing. The fact that we have more information than ever before at the tips of our fingers, literally just seconds away, is amazing and definitely something to be thankful for. But I feel that the sheer amount of information available is leading us to prioritize quantity over quality, and ironically causing us to read and learn less than ever.
Before I had an internet connection in my room, when I had to haul my laptop downstairs, sit uncomfortably on the floor next to the router, and plug in an ethernet cable to access it, I read far more than I do now. Beating the library’s summer reading challenge was easy. I finished the final Harry Potter book, over six hundred pages, in less than two days. Now, I struggle to read a 600-word blog post in one sitting. Even with so much access to quality content, I find myself mindlessly consuming shallow filler or stuff I’m already familiar with, simply because its easier. And don’t get me started on how many of my open tabs aren’t even open to genuinely quality content.
The internet has opened me up to both a world of endless knowledge and endless distraction. Notifications, bite-sized tweets, and fast-paced TikTok videos shorten our attention spans and distract us when we overindulge in them. You don’t need me to tell you that. Yes, there is definitely value in many of these things, and I am not arguing that we should all return to some idealized Luddite past, but I think that we often overestimate that value. TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter can be fun and informative, but they’re not worth sacrificing attention spans and long term memory over.
When I pick up a book, a real physical book, I’m not assaulted by a barrage of conflicting information, entertainment, and clickbait. Rather, books are focused, requiring attention and often effort to get at their treasures. The physicality of books is important as well. Just ask your friendly neighborhood booklover how much they enjoy that old book smell (or new book smell!). Books are solid and enduring, unlike ephemeral tweets and Snapchat messages. They are completely distraction free, and exercise the mind in a way that expands attention span and memory. Reading can even make you more empathetic!
Honestly, I’m not going to be deleting my YouTube account or throwing away my phone (and computer, and tablet) anytime soon. But I’ve noticed the adverse effects that spending too much time on a screen have had on me, and I think I’m overdue to start prioritizing reading physical books again. There’s more enduring wisdom and enjoyment to be found in a good book, even a good novel, than in a million self-help web articles. And besides, it’s basically a crime to be a bookstore owner and not be a voracious reader, right?