I’ve always been an avid reader, but when I was a kid scholastic assignments felt like unwarranted punishment: you were told to, essentially, memorize some (ultimately) useless chunk of carefully-worded factoids from a school textbook, then regurgitate — on command and within a set time limit — only the most incidental details (e.g. names and dates rather than motivations or ideals) of said assignment. If you were lucky you were offered the chance to evade pontification about, say, the involvement of American corporations with Nazi Germany during World War II or Columbus’ big “discovery”, with a list of multiple choices that could allow you to pick an answer based on the process of elimination.
Then, there was the summer reading assignment to kick off the end of the school year with the issuance of a tome that served to remind you that summer vacation — the Holy Trinity of the calendar year — wouldn’t, in fact, last forever and soon enough you’d be back at your desk, learning about all kinds of stuff you’ll never use later in life.
All that time reading all that stuff, spitting it back out just the way you’re told so you can finish school and get a good job, right?
Flash forward 20 or so years and maybe you feel like you did learn something in school, after all.
You’re sitting at your desk, obediently performing what seems like an endless series of meaningless tasks. All you want — again — is a pat on the head from the authority figure in charge of the roomful of unquestioning cogs who are too busy navigating a shifting landscape of often logic-defying chores to reflect on what they’re really capable of doing. Another day spent in the company of variations on your former classmates: friends by circumstance, sharing the commonality of wanting to be somewhere — someone — else. Another day you’ve left your home only to fritter away the majority of that day trying to get back home with a metaphorically heavier wallet.
And most of that day — like all the others — is spent reading. The words may have changed but the assignment is still the same: this stuff is important. Don’t think too hard about why it’s important — you’ve got a mortgage, credit card debt, an expensive indulgence. Just perform as expected and you’ll get the privilege of coming back here, everyday to do the same thing for the same reasons until you can’t get out of bed anymore.
I’m using broad strokes, of course, but with what’s left of the global workforce living with a pervasive sense of anxiety that their lives may be turned upside down at any given moment with the elimination of their job, getting through your assigned work in a state of fear will, no doubt, make any job seem like an interminable Sisyphean waste of the better part of your life.
And what do so many people do after work? They read, or contribute stuff that other people will read.
Despite the endless stream of information — the mental cacophony, an inexhaustible free-form symphony of crescendoes and diminuendos that all fight for my complete attention (to my utter distraction) — I have little to write that hasn’t already been Tweeted, posted on some “social” site or blogged about (complete with an often alarmingly long list of comments).
Has the creation of databases under the guise of reconnecting to the kid who sat behind you in second grade made personal expression the postmodern equivalent of keeping a diary in a spiral notebook? Does anyone create anything other than content, and is it without regard to eyeballs and clickthroughs?
Is there anyone who’s not trying to sell me on something, who just does something for it’s suchness?