In his column in today’s New York Times, Timothy Egan laments the continued dwindling of the average attention span. Apparently, it’s gone from twelve seconds in 2000 to a measly eight seconds. At least, it has amongst Canadians, according to a study he mentions, but let’s assume that the results are at least fairly generalizable. “Generalizable.” I think it took me more than eight seconds to think of and write that word, which makes me feel better about myself, but that’s beside the point.
Or maybe it’s not.
After confessing to being addicted to the real-time/anytime news and instant virtual “connection” that our pocket screens offer, Egan writes that gardening and deep reading are activities that manage to break him free and slow him down.
Reading his column, I thought about what slows me down, too. Reading certainly does. Hiking does, too. But perhaps more than anything, writing settles my mind into a slower, more contemplative rhythm. And, reading Egan’s piece, it occurred to me that this luxurious slowness is one of the things I love most about putting words on a page.
As quickly as my thoughts might fly while writing, I can only type or handwrite so fast. And often, my thoughts don’t come so quickly, at least not for long. I don’t find rapid production sustainable when writing. Instead, I settle into a deliberate pace, so different from what’s offered on social media or news sites or demanded of me in my job or shuttling the kids to their activities. When I write, I take the time to mull over words and sentences and think hard about scenes and dialogue and the feelings and sensations I want to evoke in readers. I slow down. I breathe. I close my eyes and pull up mental pictures, and then I try to re-create those on the page with mere words so that readers might see them, too. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t, but always, I enjoy the attempt.
Like sleeping (which we Americans don’t do nearly enough), might the activities that turn us away from the screaming stream of non-stop information be just what we need to recharge and recover our bearings? I think so. After writing, the harried feeling that I so often experience is gone, swept away by a slow pleasure that is pleasurable in no small part because of its very slowness.