It is not surprising that being an adult, and also a parent means that you have a limited amount of leisure time. Firstly I am a mum, to two young children, a toddler and a school-age child. So I spend a good deal of my time tending to toddler needs or helping with school assignments, and lots of other parenting and life admin. I also work full time with a long commute to and from my place of work. Add in trying to make time to maintain a social life and all these things take time.
Nonetheless, I still manage to find some free time on most days, where I can do what I choose to do, including reading a book, or magazine etc. And what do I mostly do? Spend time on Instagram (when not on Netflix) and wherever else on the interwebs my smartphone will lead me. Why do I do this? Because it is easy. Sometimes I see funny or heartwarming videos which put a smile on my face or cause an actual LOL moment. Often it is a quick chance to see what friends have been up to, because let’s face it, sometimes this is how we know what some of our friends/acquaintances are up to. It is a way to support businesses of our friends and families, find out the latest gossip for the celebrities we follow or see what causes our leaders or role model figures are championing. It is a chance to get quick news updates from news channels or figure out the news from whatever hashtag is trending. You go to Instagram (et al) for your Monday motivation or your feel-good Friday quotes. Get inspiration from people who inspire you, or just inspirational quotes, because there an abundance of these too and the list goes on. Basically Instagram or social media and the internet, in general, has become an easy way to kill time with a wide range of information and stuff from the very useful, to simple time wasters. And kill time it does. A quick few minutes to check the social feed can end up into a one-hour scroll session on the train journey. For example, I recently spent a good 5 minutes watching a girl get her head stuck in a carved pumpkin, and I went even further to search for the video of how she got her head out (I was not successful…if anyone knows how she finally got out, holla at me!). Did I gain anything, definitely not, but it was funny. Did I waste my time, maybe…but a little laugh on the way to work is probably good for my health. And all of this does not include the time that may be spent on Twitter or Facebook, which thankfully I tend not to spend much time on at all.
Surely I cannot be the only one who has this predicament. According to this FAMEMASS infographic, the time people spend on social media has almost doubled over the last 7 years, with Facebook and Instagram in the lead with the most time spent.
The result of the above situation is that there have been several times recently where I have committed to reading book, but have not been successful in completing it. I decided to go paperless and use the Kindle app on my phone to read, however, that of course was usually short-lived as distractions were right there with a WhatsApp ping or easy distraction by checking what the latest on Instagram newsfeed is.
So I reverted back to old school hard copy books. Since then, in the last couple of years or so alone I have started, but not completed the following books:
- Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
- French Kids Eat Everything, Karen Le Billon
- The Guilty Feminist, Deborah Frances-White
- The Unmumsy Mum, Sarah Turner
- The Secret World of The Working Mother, Fiona Millar
- I Put A Spell On You, the Autobiography of Nina Simone with Stephen Cleary
I have successfully completed listening to a few books on Audible though, including Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which is great because I am still able to get my literary fix, without too much effort, but this is just another example of the extent to which technology is changing the way we live. But to the main point, has social media, or smartphones in general, reduced our attention span to such a degree that we cannot commit ourselves to complete anything longer than an online article? There are a group of people I know who are still committed readers, who still read several books on kindle and hard copies, some are simply not active on social media and others have been avid readers all their lives, so presumably, are less easily distracted by the bright lights of the modern world.
There was a period recently in my life though, when I joined a book club and overcame all the distractions and successfully read at least one book a month. Could it have been the social pressures of not being the only one to have not read or finished the book at the next meeting that fueled my commitment to complete the books? Perhaps there are people, including myself, who because of some sort of FOMO, keep going back to social media because we don’t want to miss out on something. The same fear of missing out in the book discussions that pushed me to finish those books when I was in a book club. In the case of social media, what that something is that we could be missing out, we probably do not have a clear definition for, but whatever it is, it keeps drawing us back to it.
It is obviously a significant enough issue that there are now several apps that promise to enforce limits on one’s social media usage, however, speaking to a friend who has tried this before, she explained how she simply ignored the warnings and carried on, hence casting doubt on whether they are actually viable limiters.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed that period where I made it through to the end of an actual storybook and I am going to challenge myself to complete at least one (or some) of books that I have started in the last two years. So now excuse me whilst I go find a book club.
And if you’re still reading this then well done for getting to the end without getting side-tracked!