… in a little corner with a little book

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‘I have sought for happiness everywhere, but I have found it nowhere except in a little corner with a little book’. – Thomas à Kempis

‘There’s a strong impulse in our culture to run away from these little corners. We’re told that society’s winners will be the thinkers who network, collaborate, create, and strategize in concert with others. Our kids are taught to study in groups, to execute projects as teams. Our workplaces have been stripped of walls so that the organization functions as a unit. The big tech companies also propel us to join the crowd—they provide us with the trending topics and their algorithms suggest that we read the same articles, tweets, and posts as the rest of the world.

There’s no doubting the creative power of conversation, the intellectual potential of humbly learning from our peers, the necessity of groups working together to solve problems. Yet none of this should replace contemplation, moments of isolation, where the mind can follow its own course to its own conclusions.

We read in our little corners, our beds and tubs and dens, because we have a sense that these are the places where we can think best. I have spent my life searching for an alternative. I will read in the café and on the subway, making a diligent, wholehearted effort to focus the mind. But it never entirely works. My mind can’t shake its awareness of the humans in the room.

When we read deeply and with full commitment, we enter an almost trancelike state that mutes the outside world. The distance between words on the page and the scampering abstractions in our head collapses. As with the first generations of silent readers, heretical thoughts come and go; we’re stripped of intellectual inhibitions. That’s why we habitually retreat with our book to private spaces, where we don’t need to worry about social conventions, where the world can’t possibly read over our shoulder. That’s why we can’t jettison paper, even though the tech companies have tried their hardest to bring that about’.

– Franklin Foer, ‘How Technology Makes Us Less Free

 [Image: Minoru Karamatsu, ‘Reading’, 9 September, 2017]

 

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