The Guardian today voiced an oft aired opinion that the myriad distractions hurled at us by the media and modern life in general is stealing precious literary reading time. A gazillion TV channels, celebrity culture, 24-hour news coverage, DVDs, social networking websites not to mention the recession, debt crisis and longer working hours "has meant the very theft of our thinking space."
The economic strains under which we are all currently languishing and the subsequent efforts required to survive are obviously going to consume our thoughts and time, especially if you have children to raise and a mortgage to pay off, but suggesting that the many forms of entertainment and social communication vying for our attention are "stealing" our leisure time that might be otherwise spent reading strikes me as absurd.
It's not as if mischievous little demons sporting Steve Jobs masks are sneaking into our homes and planting tripwires so that we end up falling in front of our TVs, computer screens and copies of Heat magazine. Facebook, YouTube and Flickr don't surreptitiously transmit hypnotic waves to keep you mentally shackled to the computer screen. You are not forced at gunpoint to update your Twitter feed every fifteen seconds and read every damn tweet posted by everybody on the planet. You choose how much time you devote to these things. You choose how much of a slave you become to the information superhighway. They all have their own benefits but how much they encroach upon your consciousness is entirely up to you.
If you wish you had the time to sit down with a book then how hard would it really be to switch off your laptop and iPhone for just an hour?
Another headline splattered across the press today was the link between excessive internet use and depression. It's true, there's been a study dontcha' know?
Leeds University canvassed various social networking sites asking questions on how much time people spent online and for what purposes. The participants were also asked to complete the Beck Depression Inventory, a test designed to measure severity of depression. Of the 1,319 respondents, 1.4% - i.e. eighteen people - were classed as internet addicts and showed signs of "moderate to severe" depression. The article's lead author, Dr. Catriona Morrison, concluded thusly:
"Our research indicates that excessive internet use is associated with depression, but what we don't know is which comes first – are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression?I'm no psychologist but I would have thought that addiction to anything could be a warning sign for depressive tendencies. Also, measure the depressive tendencies of any group of people - people who eat bananas, people who knit, people who re-enact historical battles, people who collect toenail clippings - and the odds are that a "small subset" of them will show signs of moderate to severe depression. Would it therefore be fair to say that eating an awful lot of bananas or knitting piles and piles of socks could be a warning sign for depressive tendencies? Or does it simply show that 1%-2% of any arbitrary group of people will show depressive tendencies and that such people are prone to addictions of any kind as a means of escape from their problems?
"What is clear is that, for a small subset of people, excessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies."
Does this survey actually prove next to nothing?
But that isn't spectacular enough for the press so they plaster sensational headlines about the absolute definite link between internet usage and depression.
You'd better stop reading this post now before you succumb to an irresistible urge to kill yourself.