During four years of high school in Vietnam, I have read the whole Greek myth, Journey to the West, most Mahayana Buddhist canons and commentaries, the complete bibliography of the Vietnamese bestseller author Nguyen Nhat Anh, plus a multitude of manga titles (because, you know, pictorial books do count as books). In fact, what I have read in four years of adolescence are more than the number of books I even open in my adulthood. So what happened?

Back then, I didn’t have access to the internet. My computer was too slow to play any serious games. And I didn’t even have a proper smartphone until I went to college. Which is weird. With all the information available on the internet, free online courses easily accessed on smartphones, and terabytes of text in public domain, I should have turned into a more well-read man. Turns out, I didn’t.

The problem with the internet is that, every more choice presented to us comes with an even higher chance of getting distracted. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and the likes promise almost an instant gratification, while traditional books do not. Reading is an elaborate process. A typical book takes an average reader 10-15 hours to finish. And we’re now too busy with getting more likes on social media that we have no time for such a laborious “leisure” activity.

But even if our attention span is getting shorter (is it still 7 seconds?), all these bite-sized information on the internet are doing us no good. Let me be frank: You can’t master anything in two days, or even twenty hours as some TED speaker has proclaimed. I didn’t learn to write a 1500-word feature article in English, which is my second language, in two days, two months or two years. It took me hours of reading books from acclaimed authors to churn out a decent piece of writing. And that’s how mastery should be.

Now that I’ve realised my loss of attention and reading ability, I’m determined to take it back. But the road will be rough, now that I have a much faster laptop/smartphone with constant internet connection (reads: constant distraction). Maybe it’s time to disconnect?

Trinh Le


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