On holiday not reading can be good for your eyes and brain, but dangerous for your rake and thumb.

It has been a much-discussed topic that work has become part of our lives. A lot of us look at our phones to process new information from the office in our spare time. As the life-work-balance changes, to read in order to process information becomes an essential working activity, and I ask myself: does  reading now play the part that once was played by physical labour?

Information on screens accompanies us everywhere we go on: our phones have become small computers, on our sofas tablet computers hang out with us, and even billboards have become screens, too. On screens, reading information isn’t static on a page anymore but constantly changes.

And we read everywhere we are. On our way, we use our phone to read and answer office emails, messages from our friends, or quickly get some headlines news. At our work we have to crunch reports or understand emails, and reading the news quickly between two tasks has become the new cigarette break. We read the text messages from our partner, and the email of our parents.

Studies figure we will send 154.6 billion emails world wide every day, and this number is rising further. In the year 2012, Google reported 1.2 trillion searches delivering us results to be read. Then there is social media, of course, with lots to read and look at on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Youtube, or blogging. And the “World Wide Web’, which as a book would currently have 633,706,564 pages aka websites  according to numbers from the webserver survey done by netcraft.

In the humanities distant reading – to scan information and get an idea what is written about – is now discussed as a skill as important as close reading – the careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of text. Katherine Hayles among others has shown this in her last of her excellent books, “How We Think. Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis’ (2012).

Holiday from Reading

As reading becomes a to-do-task in our out-of-balanced working lives, holidays have changed. I am trying not to read these days, said my retired internet-savy father to me yesterday, who runs a German blog on sustainability. That was when I noticed something had changed profoundly. Because in my last holiday, I did the same: I tried not to read.

Before I would take a lot of books along which I longed to read, but of course wouldn’t manage. But to have time to read was something I longed for. This year for the first time I set myself a new task: give my brain a break. Much to my own surprise I wanted to read as less as possible for a week. The result, by the way, was a bruised thumb from digging my way through the Provencal garden of my uncle pictured above.

Thanks to The Internet 2012 in numbers. by Royal Pingdom


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