Growing up, my bedroom was small, but cozy with lots of light and well-designed space. It was my haven, and I would spend hours lying on the twin bed my dad built out of wormy chestnut—deeply engrossed in a great book.
I discovered Dahl, Fitzhugh, Rawls, and later as a teenager, Salinger, Steinbeck, Hawthorne, Camus, Melville, Faulkner, and so many more incredible authors. Hours upon hours, I read. My idea of Heaven was sinking into a great book against the backdrop of the songs of robins and cardinals.
I can remember precisely what it felt like when I read certain passages in memorable works like Where the Red Fern Grows, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Pearl. I have the muscle memory, carried over decades, of the heart-pounding emotion I felt when moved by the power of a well-told story rich with metaphor and symbolism. Suffice to say, I was a young woman who was completely and utterly in love with books.
And while I certainly still love to read and do, I realized recently that my ability to read with acute focus and attention for extended periods of time has waned considerably over the years. I have unknowingly been traveling on a slow descent into linguistic and literary ADDHD due to my drug of choice, my iPhone. I catch myself scanning book pages now like the way I scan the screen on my phone, visually scrolling for information, instead of taking a leisurely stroll through each page and savoring the writing, message, concepts, and meaning.
Years ago, I routinely read for three, four, or more hours a day. Now, I read in staccato bursts for perhaps 30 minutes here and there. Not only has the color of my reading enjoyment drained, my comprehension has similarly diminished. My ability to connect seemingly disparate snippets of information across works and disciplines requires an almost Herculean effort now (where it used to be as natural and effortless to me as breathing).
My addiction to my phone has rewired my brain.
Dopamine hit after dopamine hit. Drip, drip, drip.
I have had an inkling that my screen time and the frequency of which I was picking up my phone was having a damaging impact on me. Instead of facing reality and making deep changes, I conveniently told myself a story that I needed to be up to date with news all the time, immediately responsive to clients when they text/call/email, and continually posting fresh content on social media.
As I begin preparing for a month of Deep Work and research for my book, I have decided my first and best course of action is to get about the business of rewiring my brain again, only this time with clear intention. I am removing all the social media apps from my phone and will check email two times a day. I am turning off all notifications and will post on social media (once) during a designated time during the day. I will read news on my laptop (also once per day, if that).
I have boxed up 34 books which are going to make the journey with me to the beach for my month of Deep Work. I have note cards, journals, pens and pencils for capturing passages of research and mapping out book chapters. I will spend my time reading, meditating, writing, and walking on the beach. I will use my phone for taking pictures, making once-daily posts on social media, and checking/responding to text messages twice a day. Period.
Otherwise, my phone will be a silent partner kept on a shelf.
My hope is that by month’s end, I will have found my way back to the reader’s brain of my youth.
I am delirious with the prospect of feeling the emotions and sensations of being profoundly in flow, possessing the ability to read with dedicated reverence and comprehension for hours on end, hearing myself think, receiving divine downloads, and being a focused doula for my first book.
At month’s end, I will write about my experience and share what I have learned. I can say now, however, that I won’t be reverting to business as usual when I return. The cost of doing so is too great.