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2018-2019
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A lost love

A former bookworm explores the myriad of reasons why she doesn’t read anymore.

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A lost love

Ting Gao '19 talks about how and why many teenagers fall out of love with reading.

Ting Gao '19 talks about how and why many teenagers fall out of love with reading.

Aditi Borde

Ting Gao '19 talks about how and why many teenagers fall out of love with reading.

Aditi Borde

Aditi Borde

Ting Gao '19 talks about how and why many teenagers fall out of love with reading.

By Ting Gao, West High School

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Back when I was an underclassman, my bookishness was all people knew me for. For 11 years it was my defining characteristic and something that I was very proud of. I was almost never without a book. I once borrowed so many books from my sixth grade class that there were several two-foot stacks in my living room. In seventh grade, I once checked out and read two 300-page novels in one night, returning them the next day to the librarians’ astonishment. And in 10th grade, I willingly borrowed and read the classic “The Jungle” as part of a yearlong endeavor to read more classic novels.

But over the past two years, that once-imposing stack of books has dwindled down to a few paperbacks. I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve read for pleasure during the last two school years. When I read for school, I often find myself procrastinating the assignments, almost reluctantly taking up the opportunity to indulge in what was once my favorite activity.

I would say that my time has been spent on other commitments like newspaper, clubs and AP classes. But in reality, these are just excuses I make to cover up why I really don’t read anymore. The number one reason is simply this: I’ve replaced books with the internet.

It all started with the advent of the 2017-18 school year when the school district decided to gift us each our very own Chromebook. Before that point in time, I was using the internet primarily on a humongous Sony laptop, which dated back to 2009. It was heavy and slow, with loading times that made even the flimsy little Lenovo Ideapad my mom bought for $99 look lightning fast.

So even though I was using the internet on a regular basis during my freshman and sophomore years, I wasn’t using it nearly as much as I do now. The time consumed in allowing websites to load, as well as the computer’s limited memory, made browsing social media not significantly speedier and more gratifying than perusing “Anne of Green Gables” or “The New Jim Crow.”

However, once I got consistent access to faster devices, the internet was transformed for me. Now, it takes only a second or two to be given access to the full cornucopia of things the internet has to offer: the latest memes, Tumblr text posts, full seasons of thousands of shows and so much more.

In essence, the internet is a never-ending spring of instant gratification. Every time I get bored of what I’m looking at, I can immediately go and replace it with something better, my attention free to roam over the vast realms of humanity’s knowledge, humor and wit.

I can’t say that constant internet access is terrible. I’d prefer not to resort to using ‘Friend Books’ to find other “Stranger Things” fans or having to travel to Blick in order to see what the price of paint is.

However, I find that my increasing internet usage has shortened my attention span. I can hardly sit still for five pages of reading before I feel the itch to hop on Youtube or check my Pinterest feed. I constantly switch between tabs. Sometimes, I find myself unable to watch even a minute-long video without eagerly eyeing the recommendations bar, looking for the next thing to watch.

It’s a never-ending cycle of hedonism, only I’m not getting any pleasure from it. I’m sick of having the attention span of a goldfish. I’m sick of not having enough willpower to stay off my social media for five minutes at home. I’m sick of constantly sacrificing what I need and what I really want to do to browse memes for two hours.

That’s why this past summer, I checked out a book (yes, a real paper-and-ink book) on how to regain self-control when it comes to technology. It outlined all the different ways that social media, websites and apps are programmed to keep you on them and off of whatever else is going on in your life, and gave advice on how to manage them so that you can reap the benefits of their use without allowing them to take control of your life.

When Apple launched Screen Timeas part of an iOS update, I took the chance to curtail my internet usage, at least on my phone. I decided to use it to monitor how much time I was using my phone so that I could at least know how bad the problem was. I also decided to use its Downtime feature so that I wouldn’t be using my phone at night, when it’s especially important that I stay off electronics and go to sleep.

So while I’m not asking you to throw your phone into the trash or burn your Chromebook in the fireplace, I do think we could all benefit from a little self-awareness and a little self-control. Because for all its speed and little shortcuts, the internet isn’t always designed with our well-being in mind, and we should always be conscious of that.

This story was originally published on West Side Story on February 3, 2019.

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