December 29 2016
Happiness/Health & Wellbeing/Sanity

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.

A Gentleman in MoscowI 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.

  • Oh, gosh, I could use an internet detox for a week or so…I’ve been glued to FB with political crap, and probably need a breather.

    I will say, we’ve watched a lot less TV this week and streamed a lot more music through the TV…whether Yule Log videos, Pandora or Amazon music, it’s been nice to just enjoy some background noise (even if we tend to go soft rather than loud.)

  • I right there with you, so mindless but we are drawn to it like flies to the light. Digital piano and eighties music? now that sounds like a party. If the Beastie Boys can’t put you in a good mood, I’m not sure what will.

    I often listen to podcasts or music during the weekend and find I make less pit-stops on the internet, mindlessly surfing and getting more done.

    • Yes, my husband loves podcasts and I feel like if I had the wherewithal to figure out how to find and download podcasts that are of interest to me, I would enjoy that. The spoken word is very soothing and cozy. I did, for a while, have some French lesson podcasts that he downloaded for me that I enjoyed, but I fell out of the habit. But I definitely think that is another great area to mine – especially in relation to studying another language. Similar benefits to music… Thanks for commenting Brian – Happy almost 2017! -Linda

  • It’s great you’ve rediscovered the joy and peace of books and music over the past week, Linda! I’ve tried. And succeeded a little, but when my kids tell me I’m on the computer too much (teenagers, mind you), it’s time to pay attention.

    While I rarely watch TV, and never watch the news (though I did on election night), the internet has filled much of my “free” time. I admit, blogging has been a huge player. I have taken time out to read actual books and play many, many games with the family over the past week, and it’s been heavenly. Thank you for the reminder!

    Happy New Year, Linda! 🙂

    • Same to you Amanda! Yes, there is an unfortunate aspect to blogging that has you more hooked in online than you might otherwise like to be. I don’t have anything automated so I usually go on daily, though sometimes I just have to take a break and end up being quiet. I think that the holiday’s are always a great time to find those old pleasures and reset. It helped quite a bot today that mu husband took my kids to work with him and I had ten solid uninterrupted hours of quiet solitude! lol!

  • Holy cow, Depeche Mode, that is awesome! Got any Tears For Fears tunes in the mix also? 🙂 Seriously, I could talk music all day long. One thing I have found with blogging, is that I am reading fewer books, which is too bad. My daughter bought me Michael Connelly’s newest book for Christmas, so I will try to dive into that. I’m a sucker for mystery novels.

  • I couldn’t agree more with this! Music has always been my #1 mood resetter. I love reading but am struggling to find time to read these days – I have trouble concentrating on a book when it’s not quiet, so that only really leaves the time after the kids are in bed. And that’s my time for blogging, playing cards with my wife, etc.

    One thing I hope to tackle in 2017 is making more time for good books!

    • The problem with books, for me, is that I have trained myself to not consider reading a book in one of those small free time frames. So if I am decompressing on my couch for 15 minutes while my husband is working on dinner, I will check all my various online haunts because for some reason that doesn’t seem an appropriate amount of time for a book. But I am trying to change that perception. I feel like that would lead to big differences in my behavior, for the better. I think the other problem is just finding a really engrossing book. So many of the books out this year seem so depressing and not what I am in the mood for. My husband and I were talking about how we both want to go back to all those classics that we missed in school. There’s a reason they have stuck around so long – they are kind of a sure thing. I hope you hand your family had a lovely Christmas, Chris. Have a happy, peaceful New Year! -Linda xo

    1. […] Listen to music. […]

    2. angcour 06:44pm 18 January - 2017 - Reply

      Brilliant. Exactly what I was looking for for myself. Shared with all my friends on FB.

    3. Chris @ Keep Thrifty 12:05pm 30 December - 2016 - Reply

      I couldn’t agree more with this! Music has always been my #1 mood resetter. I love reading but am struggling to find time to read these days – I have trouble concentrating on a book when it’s not quiet, so that only really leaves the time after the kids are in bed. And that’s my time for blogging, playing cards with my wife, etc.

      One thing I hope to tackle in 2017 is making more time for good books!

      • Brooklyn Bread 12:12pm 30 December - 2016 - Reply

        The problem with books, for me, is that I have trained myself to not consider reading a book in one of those small free time frames. So if I am decompressing on my couch for 15 minutes while my husband is working on dinner, I will check all my various online haunts because for some reason that doesn’t seem an appropriate amount of time for a book. But I am trying to change that perception. I feel like that would lead to big differences in my behavior, for the better. I think the other problem is just finding a really engrossing book. So many of the books out this year seem so depressing and not what I am in the mood for. My husband and I were talking about how we both want to go back to all those classics that we missed in school. There’s a reason they have stuck around so long – they are kind of a sure thing. I hope you hand your family had a lovely Christmas, Chris. Have a happy, peaceful New Year! -Linda xo

    4. Mystery Money Man 11:37pm 29 December - 2016 - Reply

      Holy cow, Depeche Mode, that is awesome! Got any Tears For Fears tunes in the mix also? 🙂 Seriously, I could talk music all day long. One thing I have found with blogging, is that I am reading fewer books, which is too bad. My daughter bought me Michael Connelly’s newest book for Christmas, so I will try to dive into that. I’m a sucker for mystery novels.

      • Brooklyn Bread 08:22am 30 December - 2016 - Reply

        Oh my goodness, Tear for Fears and Duran Duran were the soundtrack to my childhood. Tears for Fears comes on all the time in our house!

    5. Amanda @ centsiblyrich 04:54pm 29 December - 2016 - Reply

      It’s great you’ve rediscovered the joy and peace of books and music over the past week, Linda! I’ve tried. And succeeded a little, but when my kids tell me I’m on the computer too much (teenagers, mind you), it’s time to pay attention.

      While I rarely watch TV, and never watch the news (though I did on election night), the internet has filled much of my “free” time. I admit, blogging has been a huge player. I have taken time out to read actual books and play many, many games with the family over the past week, and it’s been heavenly. Thank you for the reminder!

      Happy New Year, Linda! 🙂

      • Brooklyn Bread 05:49pm 29 December - 2016 - Reply

        Same to you Amanda! Yes, there is an unfortunate aspect to blogging that has you more hooked in online than you might otherwise like to be. I don’t have anything automated so I usually go on daily, though sometimes I just have to take a break and end up being quiet. I think that the holiday’s are always a great time to find those old pleasures and reset. It helped quite a bot today that mu husband took my kids to work with him and I had ten solid uninterrupted hours of quiet solitude! lol!

    6. Brian @ Debt Discipline 02:26pm 29 December - 2016 - Reply

      I right there with you, so mindless but we are drawn to it like flies to the light. Digital piano and eighties music? now that sounds like a party. If the Beastie Boys can’t put you in a good mood, I’m not sure what will.

      I often listen to podcasts or music during the weekend and find I make less pit-stops on the internet, mindlessly surfing and getting more done.

      • Brooklyn Bread 02:46pm 29 December - 2016 - Reply

        Yes, my husband loves podcasts and I feel like if I had the wherewithal to figure out how to find and download podcasts that are of interest to me, I would enjoy that. The spoken word is very soothing and cozy. I did, for a while, have some French lesson podcasts that he downloaded for me that I enjoyed, but I fell out of the habit. But I definitely think that is another great area to mine – especially in relation to studying another language. Similar benefits to music… Thanks for commenting Brian – Happy almost 2017! -Linda

    7. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe 01:39pm 29 December - 2016 - Reply

      Oh, gosh, I could use an internet detox for a week or so…I’ve been glued to FB with political crap, and probably need a breather.

      I will say, we’ve watched a lot less TV this week and streamed a lot more music through the TV…whether Yule Log videos, Pandora or Amazon music, it’s been nice to just enjoy some background noise (even if we tend to go soft rather than loud.)

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