Tallying up the results of this week’s media consumption felt a lot like hitting a slot machine, both in the repetitiveness of its content as in the activity’s potential for shock value. By repetitiveness I mean I discovered this week that I rank high in the list – if there were ever such a list – of downright monotonous media users. It took me only these five days to figure out the unchanging outlines of my biggest media meals: 10-30 minutes a day reading The New York Times, 30-45 minutes listening to music on my way to school (more or less evenly broken up in half between the only CD I have in my car and playlists from my phone) and 20-30 minutes on the way back from school listening to different podcasts (which is terrifying, given how preternaturally fond I am for bad-mouthing audiobooks). At the risk of sounding a bit like someone accepting a prize, I would like to admit that without last week’s The Raw Shark Texts reading assignment, print media might have not edged out on top. And I use the “on top” loosely, because the square of dark blue in this week’s total is there by virtue of over categorization: if I were to conflate my total mobile phone media usage (reading on it + Instagram + podcasts that must come from it + music), my phone use would be 23% higher than that of print media.
The bad news I have to share is that that 23%-cell-phone-usage-over-print-usage is me doing a conscientious effort of not whipping my phone every minute. Yes, I know my situation is dire. What I call this conscientious effort began not this semester but last, when I furiously erased all the apps from my phone in hopes that I wouldn’t succumb to scrolling for minutes (sometimes hours) at a time. So I don’t use Facebook or Twitter, on my phone nor on my laptop, but Instagram is a horse that’s taking much longer to tame. Ulin should know that he’s not the only one “susceptible [….] to the tumult of the culture, the sound and fury signifying nothing.”
I strongly prefer reading print, but there was a moment on Thursday where I felt the strengths of the book and those of the phone working in tandem. I had finished reading a short story by Jennine Capo Crucet, when what usually happens after I appreciate someone’s work happened: I needed to know the price of her book, her place of origin, how long she’d been writing for, who had inspired her? Also, was there any way I could know if she’s left or right handed? And after fifteen minutes in the maelstrom of the internet I stumbled across a seemingly unrelated short story by Tolstoy on my phone. In 15 minutes I was able to go from the heat of Capo Crucet’s story in Hialeah to a prison in Siberia ushered not only by print media but also by my iPhone.
To be honest I think that to say the book is dead is an entirely fatalist proposition. What we should consider instead is who the book is losing, – if it really is losing anyone, – and who has been with it through thick and thin, all pun intended. I only raise this question because it seems to me that most of adult readers have been reading since they were children (Ulin expresses this feeling clearly in his piece, and with his extensive collection, the same could be inferred from Hari). So how is it that some manage to keep the pastime alive while others don’t? Is it a matter of (as many of the people who don’t read fiction tell me) being able to have the luxury to read? Reading is, as we begin to explore in class, an identity (whether some wear tote bags or t-shirts to represent it is superfluous), but how is this identity generated, lost, kept, transformed or shed?
* I feel I should say some parting words regarding the division of this weeks’ time. Initially I felt like doing as the prompt suggested and divvying the usage between class and outside time. Things turned murky then because for the first time I happen to be taking classes with workloads that are similar to things I would do in my spare time – read: read – so instead I made a second graph that tracked my media usage in the class periods themselves. The result is not much to write about visually, but I think it illustrates a difference between educational practices and preferential ones. *