When laptops are (packed) away…

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:

My mother’s kitchen is also an office. 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.

While waiting for the bus. Singapore.

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.


  1. Eunice says:

    Oh, i like this post a lot! Thank you for writing again.

    I get the love of reading. The need to stay connect and the potential chaos if we have to live without internet.

    Hope all is well. :)

    1. Charlene says:

      Eunice :)

      I think a lot of us in the first world are continously seeking a balance between our online and offline lives. How much to separate becomes confused the more our devices enable us to integrate just about everything.

      Thanks for reading, as always. I hope to be writing a lot more. For me, it helps soothe a very fractured attention span, quiet all those voices in my head.

  2. Erin Wilson says:

    Take pleasure in whatever form you find it…

    1. Charlene says:

      Yes. It’s funny how this reading thing was always something I had taken for granted. As I was writing this post, it occurred to me how insane it was, that something as simple as reading could be so terribly disrupted…. by nothing!

    2. Erin Wilson says:

      In part, the gypsy life. You don’t have a personal library at your disposal, as you once had. Or the spot on your beside table where the pile of books went.

      New ways to make room for this love. It’s always a wonderful thing to make room in new ways for old loves. :)

    3. Charlene says:

      I think for me Erin, it’s more that I’ve got so many more things simultaneously pulling me away from stopping. They’re things of importance – web work, emails to be replied to, writing to be done. Gypsy living means I rely exclusively on the internet to communicate, since physical proximity on repeat is largely a thing of the past. The biggest thing is also having lost a cave of my very own to go burrow in… there is no way to shut the world out these days!

  3. It’s interesting how hard it has become to read. My mind goes off in 40 directions, I can just about make it through a magazine article but a whole book is a rarity these days. Also, it’s quite awesome to have a picture collection of Coffee and Magic’s mobile HQs throughout the world :)

    1. charlene says:

      Tell me about it. This has to change. I want to go back to being gripped by a book the way I was when I was a kid.

      And yes must remember to keep adding to the collection!

  4. Håkan says:

    It’s good to hear that the internet can disappear so quickly for you – no laptop in sight and the pull of the internet is gone! For me, it’s like a phantom pain that goes on for a couple of days. Recently, I was in Berlin on vacation and decided to take a vacation from most of the stuff I read online as well. After some time, it was a relief. I still don’t want to dive as fully into the net as I used to, it’s more like having my hand on the faucet, tightening it to a slow trickle.

    If you want to see some of the photographs I made in Berlin (shameless plug), go here: http://www.fotosidan.se/blogs/vandrandeskuggor/nagra-bilder-fran-berlin.htm Click the images to make them larger.

    1. Charlene says:

      I know the feeling exactly! I too need to tighten that faucet and slow the flood down to a trickle – it allows my brain to process, in general, so much better.

      I loved your Berlin pics, and it’s nice to finally have some work to connect you to as well. Do you post anything elsewhere?

  5. Håkan says:

    Not much. I’m mostly interested in photographing faces, and since I’m not brave enough to be a street photographer I take the best photographs of people around me, and I’m not sure if I should paste their faces all over the internet. Yesterday I was at the opening of an art exhibition – lots of expressive faces in the art crowd! A shameless photographer would have walked away with some fantastic shots. :)

    There are some more images if you search through the blog I linked to. I should post some more.

  6. Håkan says:

    people around me = people I know

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