Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Encroachment of the Buzz

In a thoughtful essay in the L.A. Times, David Ulin mourns "the lost art of reading." Ulin believes we're too distracted these days to give ourselves over to reading:
Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. ... In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.
Ulin's comments about "the encroachment of the buzz" are particularly interesting:
These days, however, after spending hours reading e-mails and fielding phone calls in the office, tracking stories across countless websites, I find it difficult to quiet down. I pick up a book and read a paragraph; then my mind wanders and I check my e-mail, drift onto the Internet, pace the house before returning to the page. Or I want to do these things but don't. I force myself to remain still, to follow whatever I'm reading until the inevitable moment I give myself over to the flow. Eventually I get there, but some nights it takes 20 pages to settle down. What I'm struggling with is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there is something out there that merits my attention, when in fact it's mostly just a series of disconnected riffs and fragments that add up to the anxiety of the age.
The entire essay is worth reading. And, as I've mentioned before, I've seen more and more recognition of this kind of anxiety. Perhaps identifying the problem is the first step towards our collective healing.


Harvey said...

I could identify with much of what David Ulin had to say.

For an opposing point of view, see the (somewhat churlish in my opinion) "rant" of Edward Champion:


Gwen Dawson said...

Thanks for the link, Harvey. Ed's always entertaining.


Zibilee said...

I can totally relate to what Ulin says about the inability to quiet down the mind and just sit and read. I am working on it, but I still find it really difficult at times.