Just thinking on the events from the past week, there’s a lot I could have written about. There was a government shutdown, the start of the Winter Olympics, and Trump making inappropriate comments on the #MeToo movement.
But instead of focusing on all the craziness that happened and letting it keep me up at night, I picked up a book.
Not an e-book. Not a download to iBooks. A hard-cover, paper-filled repository of knowledge. A good, old-fashioned book published in 2014.
And it was great. Like a Trumpian great, except better, saner, and written in actual, comprehensible English.
For me, it isn’t a question of the content I can access from a physical book versus a digital one. I can very easily get a copy of “The Art of War” or Grimms’ Fairy Tales on iBooks.
It isn’t a matter of how much fun I can have. When I’m not doing coursework or clubs, I’m frequently reading the news, watching anime, or playing video games. It is, however, a matter of modern-day technology. It is a matter of sleep. And it is a matter of how well I process information.
In all fairness, digital content has made the world accessible to anyone with a computer or a smartphone. (Money is an added bonus that is unnecessary unless you’re a hardcore “Game of Thrones” fan or want to subscribe to a paper like The New York Times.)
But consuming a lot of digital content can be unhealthy. Reports have shown that smartphone use can help fuel depression, and bedtime use of electronics can be disruptive to your body’s sleep cycle.
Thinking back to the past few years, I can see a significant difference in just my sleep quality when I read a physical book compared to when I read a digital book at bedtime.
When I read from my phone, I tended to feel more exhausted the next day, be a little more irritable and anxious, and I frequently woke up during the night enough that I remembered the next morning what I did when I woke up.
Conversely, when I read a book, for example a translation of the Japanese text “Kojiki,” I was able to better concentrate on my work, I was more alert in general, and I was much perkier and positive. I rarely woke up enough to remember it. It was also easier to wake up after six or seven hours of sleep when I read a physical book instead of an e-book.
Of course, why should you care about my observations? I’m an optical engineering major, not a brain and cognitive sciences or neuroscience major, and how I sleep may be different from how you sleep.
Perhaps you’ve been sleeping just fine when reading from your phone each night.
But how much do you use your phone or computer during the day? If you’re like me, you’re rarely disconnected. (I mainly disconnect for classes since I take all my notes on paper.)
I have little against modern technology. There’s so much we can do with it, from contacting colleagues and writing essays to watching YouTube and playing video games. Even libraries use computers to keep track of book circulation. Many of you probably have digital textbooks (though I won’t go into details on this).
I cannot use a digital textbook. I find it difficult to process the information stored in the simplest way possible, 0s and 1s. So I buy all my textbooks. With other books, I face a similar challenge. To remain focused and retain information, I need a block of paper in my hands, not a sandwich of glass, plastic, and circuitry.
You may not face these challenges: Everybody is different. You may even be trying to save paper. (Kudos to your interest in helping the environment.) But that doesn’t mean you should stick to your screen the whole time. For millennia, books were the go-to source of knowledge. They’ve stood the test of time, and they haven’t failed us yet.
Try something different. Go to Rush Rhees and take out a book on something that interests you. Maybe you really dig archeology. Maybe learning about religion makes you feel enlightened. Maybe rocket science is more your speed.
Regardless of your interests, you will be able to find something that is a good read.
Nothing compares to the excitement and journey of reading a book, not for a class or a job, but for the enjoyment.
You won’t just learn something about the world or the universe. You won’t just be doing something fun and interesting.
You will be making a new friend.