At Least I Won’t Go Blind


To visit the toilet without reading material seems woeful to me.

–Roger Ebert.

Two years ago, I had no smart phone. I saw no need to carry such a device. Now I’m hardly without it.  It’s within 8 inches of my head when I sleep, where it serves as an alarm clock. I regularly play two or 3 social media games on my phone, as well as a Sudoku puzzle every night, just to keep my mind nimble and help me fall asleep.  If I have a thought that needs explaining, there’s a Wikipedia application.  Dictionary.com has a link to their trove, whenever I need the definition of a word, or (more often) its history.   Google is at my fingertips for more obscure stuff. YouTube.  It is, in effect, a mini computer.  My favorite app is Shazam, which listens to a 10 second clip of a song and (almost without fail) tells me its title and the artist who performed it. I check my emails there, on the weekend. Yet, the last time I’ve used it as an actual telephone was five days ago.

When I was in New York City in late January to see a Broadway show, my old iPhone was dying.  I couldn’t call out, or receive text messages.  The apps weren’t doing their appy thing. I discovered how utterly dependent on it we have become because I couldn’t call Judi if I were at Rockefeller Center at, say, the Lego Store, to tell her I’d meet her in front of Times Square. I felt as if I’d lost a limb.

It was, frankly, a little scary that I’d become so dependent on the silly thing.

But, despite my nearly-300 word yammering about the iPhone, and how I’ve become connected in a way that unnerves me, I had resolved to write about something more important: my usual toilet reading has been replaced.

I guess I’m a true American who allows no moment to go “unwasted”, I always carry something with me to read the bathroom.

During my Bethany years, Don Ryall was famous for his 5 or 6 stacks of bathroom Time Magazines, dating back 4 or 5 years.  It was either a testament to how little he had to use the facilities, or a jibe at his slow reading skills.  Either way, anyone who visited his house probably noticed (and partook of) the magazines while they did their “bidness.”

Leisure moments I used to spend reading an article, or finishing a chapter of a novel, has been replaced with less relevant stuff, and usually things I can do on the phone: an online crossword puzzle, or a quick Wikipedia article.

I don’t know why this bothers me so much. If I spend 15 minutes a day in the bathroom, reading on the throne, it would be amazing. That’s, what, 10 or 12 pages in a mass-market paperback novel. I suppose it is indicative of a cultural shift that favors literacy, and I’m becoming attracted to something I proudly thought held no sway over me.

I am still a prolific reader.  I don’t have an exact count of this sort of thing, but I’d suppose I completed at least 50 novels of 300-400 pages each in 2010. I read chapters of Josephus’ Antiquities on my phone, as well as Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, and a Shakespeare play (King Lear). I read countless Wikipedia articles, usually on language or linguistics, history, or pop culture (how else would I learn who the Foo Fighters fought, or who Joss Whedon is).

A NEA study shows that “On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.” SEVEN minutes? And i’m guessing this is done simultaneously with other actions in the household. The statistic is disconcerting on many levels, none of which I’ll expound on here. We librarians spend way too much time griping that they, and their trade, is no longer valued, and I believe most of these arguments are the specious whinings of a group of workers who were unwilling to change. What does stick in my mind, though, are a few more statistics

A pretty chart to make my point:

Now aren’t you glad you read this?

I have nothing more to say on the issue.  Just an interesting set of facts about American (world?) culture that may get you thinking. Or going. Let me know if you read this while you’re in the bathroom.

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