This is the second post of the Pop Culture 180 experiment, in which I will give up reading books and other print media and replace them with social networking for more than one week. For more information, read this introduction post.
My relationship with books is an old one.
I’m told that I learned to read at age four. Somehow the world of words captured me and I never looked back. Once I asked my father whether my siblings and I were hard to control, and he said, “Well, you were normal kids, except that if we wanted you to be quiet we would just pull out a book. You would immediately sit down and become completely absorbed in the story.”
This continued as I grew older. One of my earliest and clearest memories is finishing an entire Hardy Boys book in a single sitting. Later, I became captain of a Book Bowl team at my school as a fourth grader… when the book bowl was for grades 4-6. I learned to read while walking, read while riding in the car, carry books with me even if I was not sure I would have time to read them; geeky, I know, but true.
These days, my habit is to read anywhere between three and seven books at a time. My mind has no problem keeping the stories separate, so I switch back and forth between theology, classic fiction, history, and textbooks of various kinds. I spend 15 minutes of my lunch period at work on eating, and 30 on reading. When I am alone more than half an hour, I usually stick my nose in a book. I am the only male in my work’s book club. Reading is a channel for my active curiosity.
In fact, something I am consistently teased for is my ever-present, “man-purse.” I have a nylon bag that I carry around constantly, and it always has paper and pens in case I need to write things down, but more importantly always carries two to four books that I am reading. This way, lines, waits, delays, and other normal periods of boredom suddenly transform into opportunities to spend time in a more exciting world.
This week, though, I will avoid books completely. I will still read, of course. I cannot work without reading. But I will not pick up a book and read it. Perhaps most important, I will have to turn to other forms of entertainment to fill the down times. I will not kid you; I’m pretty nervous.
I will also struggle to keep my Twitter and Facebook accounts (twitter username: @blbartlett) updated, and will pay attention to what others do on those social media sites. Maybe I’ll take a quiz or comment on a picture. If I’m really in the mood, I might link to a video clip or blog post. In short, I will be replacing personal mental exercise/relaxation with grand-scale shooting of the breeze.
That is a taller order than you might think. I am not what you would call a, “social,” person, so social media in my life can be simply defined as media not-for-me. Most of my conversations and relationships are very purpose-driven, in that I talk about specific topics, problems to be solved, conditions to be dealt with. I do not comment much on simple factual matters. Though I have many times argued for the general value and acceptability of Twitter and Facebook, it was always with the understanding that they are fine for other people, but not of interest for me. In fact, I’m convinced Rich assigned me this medium as revenge for the thousands of times I have looked at him funny when he talks about things that, to me, seem unimportant.
Through it all, I want to exercise intense introspection. This is a good opportunity to learn what it is I love and miss about reading, and a chance to experience what people like about Facebook or Twitter. The more I can honestly express the emotions or longings that I feel, the better I will be able to categorize and prioritize my activities down the road. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be a better person at the end, or at least one more attuned to the joys and interests of others.
Rich mentioned that he comes to this experiment with certain assumptions, and I do as well. Mine are that people are different, and that it is ok for them to express themselves differently. However, I do not think one medium is just as good as another, one pastime equal in value if different in content from another. I think individuals organize their lives around certain principles, and their interests and mediums have different levels of effectiveness at helping them accomplish their larger life purposes.
The question for me, then, is this: am I missing out on a valuable way of accomplishing what is important to me in life by avoiding social media? This week is the time to find out.