Our Reading Lives

The DVR Is Destroying My Reading Time

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Tasha Brandstatter

Staff Writer

Tasha is the least practical person you will ever meet. She grew up reading historical romance novels, painting watercolors like a 19th century debutant, and wanting to be Indiana Jones--or at the very least Indiana Jones's girlfriend. All this led her to pursue a career in the field of art history. After spending ten years in academia without a single adventure in Mesoamerica, however, Tasha decided to change her career and be a freelance writer (although she's still waiting on that adventure). In addition to writing for Book Riot, she's a regular contributor to History Colorado, the Pueblo PULP, and Opposing Views. She also runs two book blogs: Truth Beauty Freedom and Books (title inspired by Moulin Rouge, best movie ever) and The Project Gutenberg Project, dedicated to finding forgotten classics. Tasha also likes to have a drink or two and blogs about cocktails at Liquid Persuasion, as well as small town restaurants on Nowhere Bites. Blog: Truth Beauty Freedom and Books and The Project Gutenberg Project Twitter: @heidenkind

This is a story about habits.

As Charles Duhigg discusses in The Power of Habit, habits shape our productivity, community, and lives in ways that we’re only vaguely aware of. In the evenings, I’ve pretty much always watched TV to unwind. But when I say “watching TV,” what I really mean is sitting in the living room and doing something else—probably reading—while the TV plays in the background. There are very few shows I will consciously put away my laptop/tablet/phone for and pay attention to the whole dang time (Orphan Black, Cosmos, Mr. Selfridge). Then there are other shows that I really WANT to pay attention to—like The Daily Show—but usually wind up missing most of the salient points because I’m either super tired or filling out stupid personality quizzes on Facebook, or both.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I watch a lot of TV. This never used to be a problem as far as my reading time was concerned because I would read during commercials. A TV show, especially one I want to watch, can be pretty distracting, but commercials I can easily block out while reading. And those 3-minute intervals really add up. In college I was able to get all my textbook reading done while sitting in front of the TV, and still had time left over for books I wanted to read.

But then came the DVR. And while I LOVE the DVR and On Demand, and seriously tried to live without it for, like, a month to save money and just couldn’t do it, it’s kind of sucking up all my reading time.

Here was my first thought when we got the DVR: Yay, I can fast forward through commercials! It will save so much time!

And it does. But where does that time go, friends? It goes into watching more TV! So instead of using those 3 minutes to read, I’m now using them to watch a TV show I probably wouldn’t have watched before because my mom was making me watch The Bachelorette, or something.

I’m not complaining about the DVR—I love it. I love that I can watch the TV shows I want to when I want to. It’s so dang convenient. But just like other things that make my life more convenient—the technology triumvirate of laptop, tablet and phone—things that require more time and thought and energy are kind of shoved aside. Like reading. And I still want that reading time. I NEED that reading time, especially now that I work two jobs.

So I’m thinking I really need to change my habits. But I don’t know where to start. The DVR is really just the tip of the iceberg—there’s the browsing through blogs after dinner (for hours and hours, which I also used to spend reading), there’s my nightly cocktail, there’s chatting with my friends on social media, etc., etc. I don’t really want to give any of that up, either. And I’m not a morning person (to put it mildly), so that’s out.

Going back to The Power of Habit, one of Duhigg’s central arguments is that habits are formed based on rewards. Sometimes what we’re getting out of that habit isn’t readily apparent, but everything we choose to do is based on a system of rewards. The whole cocktail-TV-social media thing helps me relax after a long day at work. So why don’t books fit into that equation anymore? Maybe because I don’t WANT books to relax me. I want them to engage me, spark my interest and curiosity, move me. And if I finally come across a book like that, I don’t want to read it while it fights for attention with the TV and computer.

I still haven’t figured out a way to change my habits, but obviously I need to. How about you, fellow readers? Have you ever had to change your habits in order to get more reading time? Have any tips on how to do it?