At B&N, I worked my way from part time to full time, to newsstand lead, and eventually to receiving manager. It was this last step in the chain that sucked the joy out of the job. We took in every book that came into inventory. Working through our daily box count, chasing KPIs, books became product. They were no longer infinite worlds and fonts of untapped wisdom, but simply ISBNs that need to go onto this shelf or that one, that need to be scanned and counted and managed. I stopped reading after I started that role. I was traumatized. I lost my love. And I never really got it back.
There were other factors, too. I was focusing on getting back to school. I got into World of Warcraft, perhaps a little too much (but god I was good at it). Reading took a back seat in my life and it stayed there for almost two decades. It pained me to think about this loss: reading brought me so much joy throughout my life. I used to live at our local library. Why couldn’t I get it back.
Emily talking about coming back to reading reminded me of my relationship with reading. I’ve been a avid reader as far back as I can remember. I read whatever I could get my hands on as a child and my parents encouraged that behaviour by buying me more books. As a teenager living in Toronto with access to a robust public library system I spend many hours at the library, going through the bookshelves, looking through the computer catalogue system, picking up holds, returning books. I read a fair amount during those years.
That essentially mostly stopped when I got to my 20s. Trying to pinpoint reasons in hindsight feels a bit difficult but I’d say it was the change in lifestyle (going to university, having a job) combined with my increasing interest in video games. I spent a lot of time playing video games and the increasingly fraught state of my mental health at the time meant that I just wasn’t reading.
To summarize an entire decade, most of my 20s were spent going from one bad situation to the next. Dropping out of university, going from one bad job to another one, y’all get the idea. It was only over the last three years or so that I’ve been able to get my mental health order back into a shape where I can actually start getting back into reading (and other media!).
In service of getting back into reading, last year I decided that I was going to do a challenge of reading 1 book a week, or 52 books a year. It was a doable challenge and to add more fun to it I tried to read as many unique authors as I could. You can see all the short book reviews I did for each book here.
This year I decided to not do a challenge and let reading be more casual. It did mean I read less but I did read more than I used to in my mid 20s so I think the challenge had a good effect long term! I am thinking of doing another reading challenge in 2023 but I haven’t decided how I am going to structure it yet.
My morning routine—and I promise I am not going to be one of those sociopathic grindset people with this—doesn’t simply involve not scrolling. It involves reclaiming that time to bring a sense of joy, curiosity, and comfort into my life. I get up and I read. I carry a book with me on the train heading into the office. I read before bed. I’m devouring books again. It feels good. I feel like I’ve found a lost part of my life. And I feel so much more intellectually stimulated. Books have nuance. They offer wisdom. Social media offers shouting and the flattening of complex issues in patronizing and filthy ways.
My relationship with social media changed drastically in 2016. After the results of 2016 US federal elections I remember doomscrolling to the point of having what I now know was some kind of panic attack. In April of 2017, only a few months after that incident I joined the fediverse by way of Mastodon and haven’t looked back since.
My interaction with social media on a day to day basis is very chill. I follow a small amount of people who I am mutuals with and would like to regularly interact with. I have boosts turned off from most people. I make liberal use of filters, mutes and blocks to curate my timeline. There is no doomscrolling.
That brings me to the title of this blog post. Managing screen time for me is not about reducing the amount of time I look at screens. It is about increasing the quality of what I see on those screens. I spend just as much time now looking at screens as I did when I was doomscrolling but what I see on them is drastically different.
As a related example to what I mentioned earlier, I only check the news a couple times a week directly through news sites and don’t use social media for news. This allows me to stay informed while also not being overwhelmed and spiraling into despair. Current events recently meant that I had to get even stricter with myself and block large news site domains in my work NextDNS profile just so I wouldn’t fall into the spiral during work hours.
Whether it is a book on my ebook reader, a video essay on my desktop computer, or my Mastodon client on my phone, I manage the time on all these screens to optimize for quality rather than quantity. This approach is also about managing my focus. I am easily distracted so I have to make use of tools like iOS focus modes, do not disturb modes, background music to allow me to focus on things like writing this blog post or reading a book.
For example my phone is currently in the “Do Not Disturb” focus mode as I write this. Unlike Emily, the use of my phone does not cause me the same issues due to all the other screen management I’ve done (focus modes, reducing notification quantities etc.). Perhaps my methodology will help those of y’all who use screens a lot and want a healthier relationship with them.
Oh also, a bit of serendipity that happened today, I saw Emily’s blog post and then I saw that Epik High had a new song called “Screen Time” out. It’s a lovely song. Y’all should check out Epik High, they are awesome.
That’s all from me tonight, see y’all later.