Read: Book Brain

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Yesterday I watched a guy leave the hotel lobby in what looked like a hurry. But directly in front of my perch he ground to a halt and whipped out a pack of smokes. With the grace of a ballerina he had the butt in place and afire in seconds. He took a deep, desperate drag. He exhaled. Without taking a breath in between he took another drag. He exhaled. He promptly proceeded to smoke the ENTIRE CIGARETTE without taking one “clean” breath in the middle. This was the first time I have EVER seen this happen. He then dug into his pocket and retrieved his mobile phone which he held INCHES from his face, scrolling through….Facebook. He was positioned right smack in the middle of the sidewalk, which meant that everyone walking that same sidewalk had to veer around him to continue on their path. He was OBLIVIOUS. And yes, this oblivion is what I want to talk about.

Two years ago I deleted the majority of my social media accounts, keeping only Twitter, which I kept to help promote the Blurb projects I’m involved in. At the same time I deleted these accounts I decided to begin reading more. I also made the decision to limit my online time as much as humanly possible. I wasn’t entirely sure all the reasons I was doing these things, but I just KNEW I had to do them. I felt immediate changes. Within two weeks I was weaned from the urge to grab my phone in moments of leisure or moments of mental blankness that came from being overloaded with small details. I also realized very quickly how much I missed reading books. Not magazine articles, not news articles but BOOKS. Full length, long, slow, painful books. Within two weeks I realized just how much time I was wasting by going online. Oh sure, I’d veiled this online time as “keeping up to date,” and “being connected,” and “being informed,” and “Oh ya, this is part of my job, and I should know what’s going on out there,” but it was all deception driving by marketing, consumerism, pack mentality and the powerful addiction to the device in my hand. “How do you get your news? people would ask. Please. “What news?” I would ask, but the answer rarely came back because the people asking had already moved on to something else.

Fast forward two years. Now I’m really screwed. Why? Because earlier this week I realized something dramatic. I now have a “book brain,” but I’m living in a world surrounded by people with “Internet brains.” Zombies. This could be you. I never thought about what my departure from this world would ultimately lead to. I never thought about what it would be like to have to live inside the majority world where the phone and internet have become as second nature as oxygen and water. It is, at times, terrifying, sad, strange, funny and is without a doubt foreshadowing of where we are headed.

I feel like I’ve been let in on a secret. I feel at times I’m traveling in a parallel world where I can see the things around me in a unique way. I see people at dinner, all on their phones snapping images to share with followers and think “Why?” This internet world has no bottom or top. It’s endless, and the more people who fall in the more it controls the population. The providers know this. The corporations know this. The governments know this.

It’s not like the phones and internet are going to disappear, and they shouldn’t. They are incredible tools. But they are also life sucking, greedy isolationist tools that as a species we have fallen prey to. All I can say is, moving away from these things as the focal point of your life is one of the most empowering things you can possibly do. In my experience, not only will you not miss anything, you will GAIN things that are so much more long-lasting, truthful, peaceful and nurturing you won’t ever look back. IF you give it a real try.

The real issue, or problem, is that you realize you can’t really exist in this connected world because the further away from it you go the more absurd it looks and feels. You see accepted behavior that makes you want to flee. You become involved in cryptic conversation where people have to say “Wait, what?” as they lose track of where they are and what they were speaking about. You get used to unfinished thoughts and sentences where you have to become a mind reader to find the end of the story. You learn the world is being built to avoid stillness, quiet and peace. Hotel lobbies with blaring music. Taxi’s and gas pumps with television. There is no “Green Zone” unless you dig in and make one for yourself.

And just know this. If you go down this path you are now an outcast. A misfit. You are the broken toy who “probably doesn’t get it.” You will be viewed with suspicion and doubt but rarely with empathy or intrigue. You will be turned on. You will be greeted with sly humor by people WITH THEIR PHONES IN THEIR HAND.

It’s been said “Attention is the currency being traded,” and I’ll add “Fame, accolades and constant affirmation” to the list. I’m continually amazed by the talented people I find who are so helplessly at the mercy of social media affirmation. The vacations they take. The food they consume. They people they party with. All needing to be categorized, favored, showed off and shared.

I’ll end this by saying the experience of looking back is just strange. Very strange. I feel like I’m outside the cage walls and watching masses of humans who haven’t realized they are even in a cage. Just because the bars are electronic doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

My Booklist from 2015

1. I am Pilgram, Clark
The Circle, Eggars
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Eggars
No Place to Hide, Greenwald
All the Light we Cannot See, Doerr
Dark Alliance, Webb
Kill the Messenger, Webb
The Interior Circuit, Goldman
Say Her Name, Goldman
10. The Art of Political Trouble, Goldman
In Trouble Again, O’Hanlan
Desert Memories, Dorfman
At Night we Walk in Circles, Alarcon
The Sound of Things Falling, Vasquez
Deep Down Dark, Tobar
The Tattooed Soldier, Tobar
Kings of Cool, Winslow
Savages, Winslow
Don’t Stop the Carnival, Wouk
20. Good Hunting, Devine
Hotel Florida, Vaill
Salvador, Didion (reread every few years)
The Secret Race, Coyle and Hamilton
Lasso the Wind, Egan
Death Grip, Samet
The Emerald Mile, Fedarko
Desert Solitaire, Abbey
Blink, Gladwell
The Long Way, Moitessesier
30. The Monkey Wrench Gang, Abbey
The Man Who Walked Through Time, Fletcher
Cult of the Amateur, Keen
Digital Vertigo, Keen
Green on Blue, Ackerman
Dubliners, Joyce
The Goldfinch, Tartt
Redeployment, Klay
Orange Sunshine, Schou
The Big Short, Michael Lewis
40. Flash Boys, Michael Lewis
It’s so Easy (And Other Lies) Duff McKagen
Regeneration, Pat Barker
The Eye in the Door, Pat Barker
The Ghost Road, Pat Barker
The English Major, Jim Harrison
Back to Blood, Wolfe
The Unknown Terrorist, Harrison
Bee Time, Mark Winston
Badluck Way, Bryce Andrews
50. Fives and Twenty Fives, Pitre
The Birds of Pandemonium, Raffin
Unreal City, NieS
At the Devils’s Table, Rempel
The Last Unicorn, deBuys
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Flanagan
A Hologram for the King, Eggars
Island, Huxley (read in parts over months.)
The Orphan Master’s Son, Johnson
2:46, Stories of the Japan Earthquake (short book)
60. Into the Forbidden Zone, Vollman (Single)
The Cartel, Winslow
Midnight in Mexico, Corchado
House in the Sky, Lindhout
The Devil’s Highway, Urrea
El Narco, Grillo
The Art of Stillness, Iyer
Chasing the Big Fish, Lynch
Data and Goliath, Schneier
The Road Headed West, McCarron
70. Several Ways to Die in Mexico, Hollander
The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Lagercratz
Never Cry Wolf, Mowat (Reread every few years.)
The Black Flags, Warrick
Trees on Mars, Niedzviecki
In the Shadows of the Sun, Parsons
The Info Mesa, Regis
Surrender to the Flow, Lane
The Wisdom of Yoga, Cope

As you can see a read a strange mix of things. Reading has impacted my work, dramatically. It’s allowed me to really concentrate, see through the nonsense and has also freed my brain to come up with ideas. Oh, and it’s REALLY fun. I’m in awe of authors.

Comments 21

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      That looks interesting. I’m reading “This is Your Brain on Music” right now, which is also blowing me away.

  1. Seeing lists like this always grows my own list.

    How was the Barker trilogy? I have them, all first editions (used to collect), but have yet to crack them open.

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      I LOVED them. In fact, was looking for book the other day and saw one of the trilogy used and thought “Man, I wish I could find something that stirred me up like that book did.”

  2. One of my goals this year is to spend more time reading books and waste less time online. I’m curious to see how I feel at the end of the year. I’ve already dumped some social media accounts and have found that I don’t miss them. But, this is only a small part of it.

    Btw, I think the David Lynch book is called ‘Catching the Big Fish’. It’s in my holds queue at the library… looking forward to this one.

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      I’ve read the Lynch book. It’s a very quick read but worth it. He’s a big meditation fan. TM actually. Reading is a free education. And just happens to be fun.

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  3. Very well put Daniel. I was shooting little story for the newspaper the other day and noticed there must had been 20 people on their phones. Music going and everything and I felt like i was walking through a maze or something. This one old guy sitting at a table looked at me and said damn shame ain’t it. Apparently he had been thinking along the same lines as you have been and the said I guess I’m out of the loop. Well who cares I didn’t like the loop anyway. I talked with him for a bit and he was quite an engaging fellow. A real conversation, imagine that.

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      If you are the type of guy who talks to strangers then social media will never work for you. I am one of those people too. I have friends I can’t go anywhere with because talking to strangers is all they do and we never get anywhere. It’s a good thing, but SLOW.

  4. Enlightening post! And an amazing reading list. I would like to take this path as well (internet self-intervention). Can you tell me, have you dumped all your internet photography posting sites (flickr, instagram, tumblr, etc.)? If so, what’s your source to share and receive feedback on your photography? I travel a lot and seem to need that connection with the internet to keep engaged with the pursuit of art/photography. But it has it’s dark side as well.

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      I haven’t been on a photo sharing site for close to a decade. I have zero interest in sharing imagery online. I’m not trying to be a dick but I’m not looking for feedback, and if I was I’d never do it online. I’d do it face to face with prints and someone who I KNEW was legit. Also, photography for me is only personal now, and there isn’t anyone in the photo industry I’m interested in reviewing my work, especially editors, etc. I’m not sure how many modern photo-editors even know what good work is. They are looking for “scaleable” photographers which translates to “I’m really lazy and looking for people with a lot of followers.” I think getting feedback requires standing in front of a mirror and asking tough questions. That’s where the real work happens.

  5. Thanks for always digging, always cultivating your life, and sharing your work and life moments. That booklist is lengthy, and I am in awe of the breadth of info you covered in 2015. ??

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  6. Dan, I haven’t forgotten your comments about the world of photography on social media when you outlined much of this when we had lunch at ‘Camp’. Now forgive me, I must share this on Facebook immediately haha…
    I don’t see any Australian authors in your list so I’ll recommend Tim Winton for you in 2016
    Cheers mate,

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      Love Tim Winton. Passed through his hometown and almost tracked him down. We had 4000 kms of Western Oz ahead of us so we decided to keep moving.

  7. ‘Book Brain’ and ‘Internet Brain’…..I like that. I just shared that with my (teacher) wife and she really liked that. That really is a much better, and fairer, description of the growing dichotomy in our society. I think that (this) should be YOUR next book! I find things are still slanted towards age of course (generational) but the waters aren’t as clear as simply describing someone as ‘old school’ or ‘new school’ anymore.

    That is one of the things I see as a positive as I get older; the power of perspective, the power to ‘get it’.

    I guess the question now is what catalyst would ever come along to provide a shift back to ‘Book Brain’ in our society?

    Let’s see if the Internet has an answer for that.

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      JT< You bring up a VERY good point. Age. The real tricky business is discussing this with people under 30 and not offending them. So for example, imagine you and I are going to have lunch and I say "JT, I'm going to have lunch with you but I'm also going to play a video game on my phone while we talk and have lunch." You and I would laugh at this, and maybe even think "Oh, that's funny, but it would never happen because it sound like pure insanity." I saw this happen yesterday at lunch. And if I had to guess, if I asked those involved if they thought they would ever do something like this they would probably say "never." And yet there they were. By the looks of the people, both young and adult, who were all engrossed in their phones as they ate, they didn't even look like they knew they were doing it. They were already too far gone.

  8. Thank you Daniel for writing this. You articulated it so well. I have a Twitter account and for me, it is really distracting. Would you mind elaborating on the way you use it?

    Thank you

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      I only use Twitter in one direction. I use it to keep people up on what Blurb is doing and to post my new blog posts. I will delete it the first day I have the capability. Also, I never follow the stream.

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