I found myself in an unusual situation the other day: A bowl of noodles, a book, and a dining table completely clear of computers and related things. The flat we are renting in Copenhagen was being sold, and it was home open day, so all our things were still packed away when I came back to the flat to make myself lunch.
In the wandering life I have now, dining tables are the defacto working spaces, as they are ubiquitous, and usually the largest available surface to sit at. Ably illustrated by this photo of Coffee and Magic‘s (Travelling) HQ in Singapore:
I developed a habit of eating with a book for company when I was very young, and it was a habit sustained through most of my life, only broken by the new one of eating in front of a computer, when I started working in a cubicle. I haven’t worked in an office for a long while now, but I still work on a computer, and when the computer is in my line of view, its pull is magnetic.
My laptop is always in sight, and these days it’s a link to the whole world: It is work, it is play, it is my connection to friends, family, opportunity, what is happening elsewhere, plane tickets, information, accommodation, and so on. It is what organizes my life, really. I am fulfilled and sustained by what I can do on my computer and an internet connection. I couldn’t live without it. I don’t want to live without it. I like my laptop a lot. Maybe a little too much.
Mostly, as long as it is visible in the room, I am pulled towards work to be done, instant connectedness with the rest of the world, or the promise of a thousand distractions that must be indulged, now. Pair a 3-second attention span with the fragmentary bliss of the internet, and concentrating on anything only involving one page at a time, instead of 56 browser tabs, windows and dialog streams to flick constantly between, is impossible.
Cleared from sight though, the electronic siren song ceases immediately, and the entire room is transformed to a space suddenly open to infinite possibilities, like reading a book, undisrupted by the magnetism of the internet. As if it suddenly didn’t exist.
So I read a book while eating my noodles. Reading and eating for me, is the ultimate nourishment. It was one of the most pleasurable activities in my day as a child, and I discovered that it remains as enjoyable in a different century, continent and context.
Emboldened by the revolutionary idea of being able to read properly again, I continued reading for another three hours without pause, and finished my book. It is a rare thing these days, to have inclination, and an environment which is properly silent to allow complete absorption in the world – language, nuance, imagery – of a good book. It appears that I am not alone in this. Tim Parks wrote an insightful article called Reading: The Struggle, on how persistent connectedness is changing the way we read, and the way writing itself is adapting. Read it here: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/jun/10/reading-struggle/
But occasionally, when all the stars align and a environment just right for a long read falls into my lap, I grab it, and read. It is soothing in the way only a satisfactory, extended period of disappearing into a book can be.
Then, it was time to get the laptops out and the “office” set up again.