I feel like I've been infected, fallen victim to that epidemic I keep reading and hearing about: the inability to stay focused on one piece of content.
The New York Times last week had an article about the perils of choices - how the myriad entertainments at our fingertips are wrecking havoc on our attention span. Shrinking it. Elbowing it. We're not just distracted by how much is available, we're endlessly lured and diverted by choice-overload, so many alternatives that it's impossible to do what we're doing, read what we're reading, watch what we're watching.
Okay, I should speak for myself: I'm endlessly yanked, pulled, dragged, tantalized, by what else I could be reading or watching. I'm not in what I'm in. It feels like there could always be something better--more captivating, instructive, important. There's only so much time in the day, so shouldn't I maximize it by multi-tasking - multi-absorbing? I have to keep up with so many items coming off the transom, buzzing and twinkling; how can I just read one book for an hour or two?
I have been in denial about why I haven't completed a book in so long. I've chalked it up to an ongoing magazine assignment keeping me busy, my son's bar mitzvah planning, the bottomless pile of mail I haven't opened. But the fact of the matter is that when I'm reading a book, I'm thinking about whether I should be reading another book. When I'm reading the Newsweek site on my iPad, I'm wondering if I should flip to Time Magazine. When I'm reading the Daily Beast, I interrupt myself to check Politico, which makes me flip to the Huffington Post which has video clips which I click on and watch, which lead me to People Magazine which leads me to TMZ. When I'm on the New York Times site reading a Tom Friedman Op-Ed, my eye catches a recipe I think I should download and cook sometime, which leads me to the wedding video link (interview with a couple on how they met), which leads me to the paper's featured Manhattan apartment where I lose myself in rich photographs of outdoor space, which leads me to the "Week in Pictures" with shots of catastrophes and pathos around the world which leads me to a charity site where I should be sending a contribution.
This week alone, while I tried to make a dent in the new Hitchens memoir, I wondered if I should be watching the "Glee" finale, and while I dipped into blogs on the Gaza flotilla, I caught a clip of the MTV awards with Tom Cruise reprising his character from "Tropic Thunder" which I never saw and my husband always recommended so it occurred to me I could download it for an upcoming flight to LA, while I realized I should get back to the Gaza debate which reminded me that I never finished the much-talked-about-everyone-sent-me essay by Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books on how Jews don't care about Israel any more, which led me to see that Beinart has a new book out and maybe I should download that for my upcoming flight to LA.
Oh, did I mention email? I have to keep checking it because who can stop? And there's not just my Gmail but my old AOL account which I haven't closed out because so many people in my life still use it and it also feeds my Facebook alerts, which I neglect because it's yet another time-suck because so many friends have interesting update trails and links to video clips and photographs of their kids and pretty soon I'm neck-deep in the maze of other people's content.
Which is why I'm not generating my own. I'm supposed to be blogging but I've been paralyzed by everyone else's opinions and output. Isn't enough being said?
This overabundant landscape is both rich and fatiguing. Stimulating and sickening. I feel both informed and stupid all the time. I'm getting so many bits of things but nothing whole. And it's entirely my fault. I keep somehow blaming The Way of the World, but nobody's jamming all this down my throat, tugging my sleeve when I'm trying to concentrate, forcing me to dart and skip around, always sampling, finishing little.
Just a partial list of the books I've started recently and left dangling (no joke): Tom Rachman's "The Imperfectionists," Dexter Filkins' "the Forever War," David Finkel's "The Good Soldiers," Zoe Heller's "The Believers," Colm Toibin's "Brooklyn," Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin," Lorrie Moore's "A Gate at the Stairs," Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," Andre Agassi's "Open," Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Kitteridge." What is wrong with me? These are good reads - some great -- and maybe it's a cop-out but I do believe if we still held books in our hands, I might not have put them aside.
Every time I vow to pare down, calm down, hunker down, I relapse. Like fireflies in my peripheral vision, the "other things I could be doing" start to dazzle, tempt, derail.
As I write this on the plane to LA, I've got my laptop on the tray table, my iPad poised to the Hitchens book and my iPhone getting emails. (Yes, I paid for the Gogo inflight internet connection because God forbid I was unable to get content for five hours.)
I know, I need content detox.
But I have a lot to download first.