Reading in Private

Here’s something I’m curious about: Does social media change how we think, feel, and behave, when we’re not online?

Have you ever shared a photo because it projects an image you like, not of the thing photographed, but of yourself? I catch myself reaching for my phone when I see something amusing or pretty. That would be good to share, I think.

  • This will be funny.
  • This will be impressive.
  • This will be cool.

Social sharing nudges us towards performance. And while performing isn’t bad, and it’s often fun, it’s not the same thing as living my best life. Sometimes, social sharing trips me up, and gets me to focused on the wrong things.

Take reading, for example. I used to set goals for how many books I’d read each year, on Goodreads. Then I’d track my books in pursuit of that goal, keeping up my pace. There’s a handy progress bar on the website, and you can log everything you read with a few clicks. And because it’s all public, it made me feel more accountable.

But gradually, sharing my reading habits became a problem:

  • I was setting reading goals that I hoped were impressive. (hello ego!)
  • I was finishing books I didn’t like, just so I could log them.
  • I felt pressured to review every book I logged, and anxious about reviewing books I didn’t enjoy.
  • I didn’t think that comic books counted as a book (too short) so I didn’t log them. This created a divide between books that counted and books that didn’t.

I quit the reading challenge earlier this year, because I wasn’t having fun. But then something interesting happened. The moment I stopped caring about the invisible audience on Goodreads, reading became a pleasure instead of a chore. My whole attitude shifted.

  • A book hasn’t hooked me by page eighty? Stop reading. What a relief!
  • Want to write a review? Do so! If not. That’s fine too.
  • In the mood for comics tonight? Comics it is!
  • Who cares how many books I’ll read this year? Why keep score?

These days, I’m reading like I did as a teenager, voraciously and privately. And I love it! All because I took the invisible audience away. One that probably wasn’t watching, anyway.

Friends, if you track your books publicly, I invite you to try something new. Swing through a bookstore or library and pick up something fun, no matter how respectable or popular it is. Choose something that makes you curious. Read that book in secret, hold it in your heart, and tell no one.

Enjoy something, without the need to share it. See how it feels.

Whee! I hope it’s fun for you, like it was for me.