This time of year

This time of year, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year but especially the week between Christmas and New Year, I always reconnect with things that have fallen by the wayside either because I’m too busy with work, or new exciting things have taken up my attention, or both. Sometimes I rediscover a writer I’d forgotten I loved (Philip Roth is a frequent culprit), other times I listen to albums I’d forgotten I owned, or… you know.

It’s become harder and harder to stay on top of the things I like. Instead, I spent more time looking for new things, troving the web for novel ideas, new forms of expression, etc. And I do find them — all the time — which makes it hard to stop looking. But sometimes a four-day holiday weekend comes around and I forget to look for excitement around every corner, stop linking off of page after page after page, and stop searching for the underlying Connection beneath everything, and relax a little bit.

When this happens, I often read novels.

Or at least I read about novels in the Sunday Times Book Review, or in the New Yorker, or in any other number of fancy bourgeois publications. I get into the spirit of reading about things that aren’t technically true, and get into the idea of making stuff up. Last night I read a Chekhov story for the first time in years; fantastic! I bought a book of stories by Alice Munro today; can’t wait! Even though it isn’t that cold out and there’s no snow on the ground, something about this time of year makes me want to go inside for a bit, to retreat from the anxious world of Need More Knowledge, and let my mind go.

Trebor Scholz posted a good piece today about “continuous partial attention and what to do about it,” and it couldn’t be more relevant. It’s true that many of us suffer from this disorder:

Many technologists read a large number of weblogs every morning perhaps followed by a quick check of the latest bookmarks in their Del.icio.us network. After that people draw their attention to the dozens if not hundreds of emails in their inboxes. It is a constant cycle of intake. The default is all about absorption and little about reflection. How much time are we left with to think? Standing on terrabytes of information does not make us necessarily more reflective.

That about covers it for me. The nature of the web means that any dose of information, no matter how large, is not enough; there are an infinite amount of links to click on, sites to find, meaning to uncover. Except that is any of it truly meaningful if, as Trebor noted, we don’t pause to reflect on it?

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