Stop reading this now!
I don’t mean stop reading this post and start reading another one. I mean stop reading any more messages for the rest of the day. Fold Facebook. Ignore Instagram. And turn off Twitter.
Put them away.
Stick your phone in your pocket. Close the lid of your laptop.
Because it’s World Book Day. It’s the one day of the year we should celebrate the printed page. Yes, that fusty, unlit, inky papery thing that looks like it’s been left on the shelf.
What difference is there between reading a book and reading online ephemera?
One of the main differences is we tend not to get as distracted when we read a book. Because there’s nothing on offer, other than the words on the page.
One issue with social is the platform it sits on. Being online is an eye-bobbing sea of queasy distractions. One minute we’re reading a short article on…
… and the next we’re…
… ten ways to make you better at…
… looking for the perfect…
… oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, kittens are so cute…
… that sofa looks like the bargain of the century…
Distractions are irksome.
They have our eyes bobbing around and our minds doing little other than, well, getting distracted. The sheer, relentless volume of online junk flashing before our eyes means we get yanked around from pillar to yet another post. No sooner are we distracted by one thing than another thing comes along and – just look at those kitten eyes – takes us elsewhere… then somewhere else, then somewhere else…
And so it goes on.
A book, especially a work of fiction, does the complete opposite. Its starkness is actually useful, because a lack of distractions allows us to get on with the task in hand. A book’s lack of ads, its deficiency of links, its paucity of false promises, its sheer determination to be nothing but words on a page actually helps us become absorbed in the story.
Real world experience
And well-written stories help us understand everything about the world. The real one. Not its virtual alternative.
When we become interested in a character in a great story, we worry about the sticky situations they get into. We cringe with them when they embarrass themselves. We feel for them. We laugh with them. We empathise…
Getting immersed in a good story is literary mindfulness. It’s word balm. It’s a soothing way to learn to identify with human beings, to laugh, to cry, to feel… to stay tuned into what we’re doing now. To not get distracted.
Think of it this way, if a book is still on sale 10 years after it was first published, it's probably got something going for it. If it's still available 200 years after it was first published, it's definitely got something going for it. By comparison, how many online posts will you be reading even 10 weeks after they were first published?
So, I’m sorry if you’ve got this far.
I apologise for taking up your time, today of all days.
Maybe it’s a small consolation for me to say I hope you now feel inspired to mosey over to the shelf, select something tactile, something without any pictures, ensconce yourself on your sofa, and really make the most of the rest of World Book Day.