I'm not yet convinced of the virtues of Google's Fast Flip, the new service designed to "let you rapidly flip forward to the content you like, without the constant wait for things to load". It's not that I doubt the virtues of the software, just that I'm coming round to the idea that, with reading and cogitating at least, the slow lane can be a mighty fine road to take. I suppose I'm also saying that "the constant wait to load" is just fine with me.
For the last couple of weeks, I've had the chance to take things a little more slowly and absorb information in a different way to usual. Most days, I take a train into London (reading a newspaper), ride the Tube (while reading, desultorily, from an iPhone or BlackBerry), go to an office where I switch on a Dell computer (grazing through news aggregators, feeds, portals, instant messages and email). Then I write (consulting internet sources throughout) with frequent interruptions caused by short phone calls, meetings, tea breaks, Twitter orgies, and the trivial pusuits of conversations (nay, coded arguments) about old songs, shows books and jokes, all of which involve a visit to Google and generate tremendous satisfaction or gloom, depending on who was in the right.
I make the reverse journey similarly occupied, get home, watch TV (BBC news programmes or SkySports News with festooned sidebars, red buttons leading nowehere, graphics for idiots and the gewgaws of breaking news ribbons and such), go to bed, listen to the radio (with DAB 'enhancement' of an river of text) and drift Lethe-wards into the sleep of a man with not quite a satisfied mind. Other things happen (usually) but a large part of my day -- actually, a very, very distressingly large part of my day -- is taken up with absorbing information, most of it in one-bite formats.
My information acquisition habits have become the brain's nutitional equivalent of living on a diet of fun-sized Mars bars and recently, dear reader, I've begun to feel symptoms of information overload. I think the straw that did for the camel came when I started using Twitter in anger. Quite often my brain feels like it has had a sugar rush followed by a crash and it takes time to apply myself to more substantial information that requires thought, reasoning and the input of more than one source of data. I find myself variously grumpy, forgetful, intolerant, silly and occasionally offensive. At best I have the sympathetically comical look of one who has delved deep into the world's bucket of knowledge and retrieved only the scraps of straw at the surface.
Thanks to the caesura (great word, although interregnum is also fine) of a break from office life, however, for the last couple of weeks I've taken the chance to make some major changes from this habitual state of being half-cut or downright sloppy drunk on junk data. I've begun to read email, Tweet, follow sports and consult aggregators like Google News or Techmeme only at certain, self-specified times of the day. I've kicked out freesheets and even quality tabloid newspapers. The Saturday Times has been canned for the first time in my adult life -- there's not enough in it to justify the cover price and I think Giles Coren and the interminable lists are rotting my brain. The 35-year Sunday Times habit may have to go too, which will spare me the trouble of kicking AA Gill in the shins and feeling guilty about using the Money section only on spillages and as compost liners.
I'm reading more novels and biographies and fewer short stories. Instead of having the radio or TV on in the background like a poor man's Greek chorus, I sit down for a half an hour with a glass of Albarino wine and listen to something improving on the iPlayer (the Dr Johnson stuff on Radio 4 at the moment is excellent). Like a Victorian paterfamilias, I forbid the entrance of children and women. I may take up a pipe.
I feel like I need a fitter brain so I'm weening it off the fast food of summaries, boxes and all the plethora of factoids that lead slowly to the awful disease of taking things for granted, giving up and crawling to a wormy grave without ever having exerted the cerebellum. I'm trying to read properly and not skim, to ask questions rather than passively inherit the consensus of wisdom; I'm trying not to re-hash or act like The Nodder in PG Wodehouse's story.
I'm slowing down in the hope of going faster.