Online reading has changed me forever

I used to read a lot a few years ago, and in many respects I still do. However, the message I get when hearing the phrase ‘I read’ is almost irrevocably linked to books, and even more specifically to reading fiction. While I don’t look down on things that have a theoretical or practical subject-matter, I admit that I have this bias around the concept of ‘books’.

In my grasp of the term, books are to fiction what studies or manuals are to theory. And maybe it’s because I was brought up before the advent of the internet and e-readers, and (luckily) was oblivious to the existence of self-help literature until my late teens, but even now while I’m writing this I argue that the act of reading is tangled up with the process of going through works of fiction. (NB I’m a classicist; when I say fiction, I think about the works of Mann, Dostoyevsky, and the likes.)

At any rate, and as I’ve previously mentioned, during the past three years I’ve been in the top 1% of Pocket readers worldwide. For those who don’t know what Pocket is, it’s a browser add-on/content platform that lets you save articles you find, and read them later on anything that has an internet connection and access to the service. And during these years, I’ve gone through an immense tally of articles that I’ve saved in my Pocket feed.

While I admit that along the past few months I’ve at times skimmed through certain pieces (I’m fairly certain that anybody in my place would recognize meaningless paragraphs when they’d read cookie-cut introductory phrases), and even deleted articles altogether just because I thought reading them would be a waste of time, for the greater extent of my experience using the platform I’ve been something of a scholar.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I save anything I think is worth remembering, and then write things down in notebooks. Since 2014 I’ve scribbled down (almost) five bindings full – and I don’t plan on stopping. These notebooks have helped me immensely, and not just in terms of how much I like myself as a person – they’ve helped me get past a lot of interviews, and have aided me in landing two successive jobs that were wishful dreams as little back as 2013.

Conversely, this deluge on Pocket has made me feel as though I’ve been neglecting books at an ever increasing rate. I’ve harbored this belief ever since the beginning of my using the service, and while I don’t regret this per se, I do admit I constantly feel as though I’m missing out on the world of fiction.

So a few weeks ago I looked into just how much I’ve read on Pocket and how many books I’ve read (by looking at my Goodreads account, which I maintain religiously) since 2013, with some added data from 2012 and 2017 for context.

… and I came up with the below graph:

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Nowadays even Facebook offers you the option of saving stuff for later – but in 2013 and 2014 a service for scraping articles was almost unheard of. I always say to myself that had it not been for Pocket, I’d have become an Instapaper junkie (back then they weren’t freemium, so I went with Pocket as they didn’t ask me to pay them anything, ‘and that has made all the difference’), or would even have developed my own way of going through things I’d like to put in a special place so that I can read them at a later time.

One thing’s clear – in light of the realities of my life (read: I’m fortunate enough to have the possibility of harnessing a little of the knowledge that the internet offers), I’ve come to wilfully force myself into a cognitive dissonance that my younger self could never have imagined:

I get that reading articles following science journals is nice and insightful sometimes, but darn, I really wish I could just stop time at my whim and lie down for the next hundred or so years and go through at least the top layer of literature humanity has produced over the past few millennia.

 

 

PS I post most of the stuff I read on Twitter. And if you have anything you’d like to add to the above, you can find me there.

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