Two years ago, watching my sister on her phone was the nail that ended my Instagram account. My relationship until then had been very on-and-off again, primarily because what always began as thoughtful participation would end in mindless scrolling, but observing her put an official end to it.
I had taken a photo I was proud of, put in a carefully crafted caption, and uploaded it. Hours later, my sister was going through her feed. Like, scroll, like, scroll, like, scroll. She came across mine, liked it, and kept going. She might have spent a whole second on it.
At first I was slightly offended — she hadn’t even paused after the careful time I had spent on it — until I realized that’s exactly what I was doing. I was spending so small amount of time on my friends’ photos, rarely registering them, while somehow expecting mine deserved their time.
When I started reading Medium, I was more thoughtful because I had to be. With three free articles each month before hitting the paywall, I picked only the articles I really wanted to read, and then would read them thoroughly, soaking up every word.
This changed, gradually, when I became a member. The world of pieces opened up, endless, and my behavior started reflecting how rushed I felt wanting to read them all.
I hadn’t noticed how my habit around reading was becoming so mindless until last night, when I was skimming through yet another article, looking at the headlines to see if there was anything new or different. I read the beginning of each paragraph underneath each title, but that’s all.
Click, scroll, anything useful here? Click, scroll, anything useful here?
I stopped myself. Someone out there took the time to write these paragraphs, put thought into the sentences, and here I was racing to the bottom. Towards what?
Many of the publications I’ve subscribed to are based around self-help, and the majority of pieces hit on some aspect of psychology that I am worried about/feel like maybe I could learn something, such as ’10 tips to make you happier right now’ or ’10 side businesses you should definitely know about’. This quickly propels into a reading frenzy, feeling like maybe this piece has something I don’t already know that will change my mind/perspective.
Even though, often, they don’t — many of the tip articles, while easy to read, don’t have tips I haven’t already read or heard from somewhere else. It doesn’t stop me from clicking on them, nor from rapidly skimming through them. I end up taking nothing in and feeling like I did after hours on Instagram — slightly hollow.
Part of this could be on the authors to make better, more original, or personal content, but I think a large part is on myself — how can I read pieces carefully again?
I wish Medium had a limit option for members, that we could decide how many pieces we could read in a day before a reminder wall came up (“this is your 40th article today, go live your life now”). Or perhaps a reminder that nudges you to comment on a particular amount of articles each day, as commenting often forces me to reread something and take it in.
While I will come up with my own promise, I know from my own experience with making promises about moderation and social media that while well-intentioned, without external friction (like site blockers, timers, reminders) I rarely follow through.
Regardless here is my promise: I will try my very best to carefully select the articles I am going to read, and for these articles I want to really, truly read them. To remember the author behind the words, to really find something meaningful to take away from it, to take my time with them.
Because there is reward in the practice of slow.