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My goddaughter – age 19, and currently living with us – is amused at something on her phone. She’s always amused by something on her phone. She turns to Himself. “Do you want to see a video of a man licking a pig?” she giggles. His eyes narrow; he does not want to see a video of a man licking a pig.
“You,” he says witheringly, “need to Read. A. Book.” But she’s Teflon. She already read a book this year, she reminds him, back in March when she had Covid and was quarantining in the guest room, and she read Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. Yes, it was an accidental reading that happened when she was scrabbling through the bookshelves in bored desperation, having presumably finished all the content on the internet, but it was a reading nonetheless.
Of Mice and Men is a novella – I’m guessing she picked it because it was short. Her verdict? It was too long. Too slow. Too wordy. It was okay. But a man licking a pig? Now that, my friends, is entertainment. It seems my darling goddaughter has the attention span of a goldfish, or worse than a goldfish because, despite what Chappie wrappers used to say, goldfish actually have pretty decent memories. They also don’t have TikTok.
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When I was young, I hear myself droning, I read books all the time… Scratch a little deeper though and it’s clear that she’s reading all the time too, only online. Fact is, information has become so abundant, with a rolling 24-hour news cycle and a stream of ever-increasing “content”, that keeping up is a fulltime job. It’s too much, but still it’s getting faster.
In 2013, Twitter global trending topics lasted on average 17.5 hours. By 2016, this had dropped to 11.9 hours. Meanwhile, local trending topics average 11 minutes. The next big thing flashes by while most of us are still discovering the last big thing, and if an idea can’t fit into a soundbite, it won’t be heard.
Yes, time was we had empty hours to mull things over, to stare into space, to get lost in books, to reflect, to get bored. Now nobody with a phone and an internet connection can ever be bored again. Especially while there are still pigs unlicked in the world.