Books & Music are the Cure for your Internet-Induced Brain Malaise
I spend a fair amount of time online, like many people in the first world on planet Earth. And like many of those people, I recognize that it is crushing my soul, even as I struggle to tear myself away. I ask myself, over and over… Why am I looking at this brain-liquefying garbage? Can I stop? How can I stop?
Turns out, these are good questions. And they even have answers.
Why am I reading the internet?
Obviously, there are times when you need to go online for legit purposes – to get actual work done, to design your kid’s Pokemon card birthday invitation (aka me, after writing this), reading your favorite Brooklyn-based blog. Ahem. But then there are those other times… like when you should be working but Just. Can’t. Bear It. Or when your day, which is cut into teeny tiny segments of time no bigger than a six-year old’s dissected steak, turns up exactly 18 minutes that are unaccounted for. Certainly when you’re bored. Or first thing when you wake up in the morning–
Aaaaaand here is where it all goes so very wrong.
The internet is like air.
It will fill up every single molecule of empty space if you let it. But instead of allowing you to breathe, it suffocates. It creeps into every momentary vacuum with pictures of Caitlyn Jenner, tips for losing weight and tales of harrowing sorrow. It is designed to be irresistible to your brain’s desperate need for distraction… every moment that you wait on line, or must endure a commercial, or sit in the doctor’s office. The more we wire our brain to be ever-distracted, the less it can do without. Once the internet has claimed dominion over every nook and cranny, those spaces are hard to take back.
A Christmas Week Miracle
Without particularly trying, this past week has provided me a respite from the brain murder of the internet, thanks to several factors. The first I can’t replicate any other time of the year: Most of the NYC PR agencies are closed this week, as are most of the consumer media we service, as are most of my clients. It is the one week of the year that I am truly untethered from my computer.
The second factor was that… we constantly had music playing. Usually Christmas music, but when we got sick of that, we listened to something else. Because there was work to be done! And not the sitting-at-your-computer kind. Baking, wrapping, cleaning… when you are doing these things, music really helps. Everyone knows music motivates you to do. We use it as a trick at the gym. But we can use it to the same end at home.
Finally, we all got many new books for Christmas. So when I wasn’t cooking or cleaning or visiting with friends and family, I was reading.
Just like that, I was Newton under the apple tree.
Because I saw how clearly those empty spaces do need to be filled. Not all of them, but most. And we can fill them while feeding our brain instead of depleting it. Books and music accomplish this effortlessly. These two simple ingredients, which we all have in the house, can provide powerful protection against boredom-induced, soul-sucking internet reading.
Obviously other things do this, as well – exercising, cooking, socializing, walking in nature. But those can sometimes require other ingredients, such as will, decent weather, effort or coordination. It does not get easier than reading a book or listening to music.
The trouble with books, of course, is finding the perfect gem to take you far away.
That part can take effort, sometimes. I read about six thousand year end “best of” lists before finding a book that I love. Untold effort! But since the election, I was determined to find not just a good book, but a great book. I have not watched television news since November 8th and don’t plan to ever again. I recoil if I see or hear it, even for a moment. But the news is still out there and still depressing, so I have been aching for a book that could truly transport me in a way that reading the internet simply never could.
Look at all those 2016 “best book” lists, and I promise you will find something.
I wanted to be spirited away to a different time and a different place… preferably one in the snow. I wanted something stylish, atmospheric and smart, not harrowing and haunting, as just about every book today is. But I found it: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It is taking my brain far away and leaving it with a feeling of lightness and inspiration.
Music for company, music for purpose.
Back when I had my own place, I used to turn the TV on when I got home. Not to watch, but just to hear it in the background, for company. I fell out of that habit years ago because I didn’t want my children to listen to our gory local news, and by dinnertime, they’ve commandeered the television anyway. But oh how quickly the internet filled that space! Checking Twitter or Facebook, reading email, checking the NY Times… when I should have been helping my brain disconnect after a draining day at work. There is a better way to handle the after-work after-shocks.
Put some music on and put it on loud.
Nothing has the power to reset your mood, your brain or your sense of purpose more efficiently. Is there any greater joy than being absorbed in a task while listening to the perfect soundtrack? Jazzy standards, 60’s Bossa Nova, or the old Jerry Vale Italian songs of my childhood for cooking. Classic disco for cleaning. And oh, how A Tribe Called Quest has satisfyingly channeled my rage on many a subway ride since November. I love to play chamber music on weekend mornings as my children draw at the table while waiting for breakfast.
There is music for every mood, but no matter what it is, if it’s loud and present, it makes me want to do just about anything at all other than read the internet. Now, I put music on all the time as a short-cut, a little insurance policy to prevent me from falling into a heart-sickening dalliance online. How could I possibly, when the Beastie Boys are just begging me to clean my closet?
But the best thing by far …
Is that Santa brought us a digital piano and by some miracle, I was able to retrieve much of the sheet music that survived at my parents’ house from when I was like 12 years old. The collection is quite a time capsule: the Les Miserables songbook, Wham, Depeche Mode, Whitney Houston… the glorious eighties! But, seriously, I have brought myself to tears more than once playing these songs from my childhood.
My fingers have happily found something more satisfying to do than swipe glass and flutter through fragments and musings of no consequence.
The best part of playing music, whether you haven’t for many years, or are learning it anew (as my husband is doing, to incredibly charming effect) is that the blood just rushes to new places in your brain. I feel doors opening in dusty hallways of the farthest reaches of my mind. Powerful emotions have arisen. Different ideas have popped up. Habits and thought patterns have been interrupted.
After a week of reading books, listening to music, playing music and teaching my family to read music, my brain feels shiny and bright.
I loooove telling my son to practice the piano when he’s bored and does not know what to do. I’ve not totally stopped checking Twitter or The Times. I’m up just enough on the horrors playing out daily. I shall not live in a bubble. But the internet has not claimed every last bit of my air this week, not by a mile. My brain feels like the clock turned back five years, simply by doing some very ordinary things.
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