While the world and his wife/partner/best friend with benefits is busy telling you which (non-romantic fiction) books you absolutely must read, I thought I’d look back on 2021 as the year I reduced my reading materials and write instead about things you might also like to consider no longer reading.
Way back when, email was going to be the game changer. No longer would you need pen and paper, an envelope, a postage stamp and the services of the Post Office (other mail delivery services are available) to tell someone what you had for your lunch. Email was going to do it all for you. And faster. Often using fewer words. In 2021, I stopped reading almost every email sent my way. The only exception being my business email inbox, and even then, I stayed selective. 95% of emails addressed to me were deleted unread. We’ve got smart home security Every time it detects movement I get an email. Recently, I had sixty-seven emails about a spider.
In my (non-writing) day job, I’ve made it clear I regard emails as ‘for information only’ and if anyone needs me to do something, they should pick up the phone and call (or connect through one of the now many chat applications I’m forced to maintain). I suggest you do the same. Unsubscribe from any and every mailing list – there’s not one that ever matters (except for my lovely and increasingly rare newsletters), set up an auto-reply that lays down the law about how you won’t be doing a darn thing based on an email, so speak to me if it matters and delete every other message you get. It may help to know I have cultured the reputation of a crotchety so-and-so in the workplace, but it means I get to do actual work and make a difference.
Leaflets and junk mail
Each time I buy a magazine, I find an in-store bin and shake free all the inserts. It’s the same when one arrives through the post. 4 out of 5 dentists agree. What does the fifth one think? Brush your teeth with a lollipop. I have the most awful impulse buying habit and I realise I am the precise target of these special offers and dubious claims. It’s best I don’t see them. The same goes for any junk mail – and indeed any mail that isn’t a bill or statement or the offer to buy film rights to Rebuilding Alexandra Small. Rid yourself of the meaningless words and wasted paper. Recycle them. Save trees. And don’t get me started on petitions. They never work. I might start one: Rewrite Hamlet so his dad doesn’t die. And everyone gets two hours of their life back.
One of my other dreadful habits is that I over-consume the news. I can’t sleep at night until I’ve checked at least three or four major news outlet websites. Twice. I have two settings: worried for the world and craving cheese. I realise this sort of reading means I’m setting myself up for a bad night with so much screen time exposure, but something inside me remains convinced that if I don’t keep an eye on the world, it’ll blow itself up. Putting Boris Johnson in charge of the country is a bit like employing Prince Andrew as a babysitter. Every few months, I’ve managed to swear myself off and take what I call a news blackout. I refuse to listen to, read or talk about the news for two whole weeks. These are the good weeks where writing happens, the house gets a spring clean and I sleep like an overfed baby. I also realise I should do this more often or ration my intake. I could give it up tomorrow. It’s no big deal. Honest.
Warning labels on medicines
I am a hypochondriac. There, I admitted it. I am the sort of person who’d take a broad spectrum antibiotic as his desert island disc luxury item. There’s little more beloved of my sort of people than reading those little folded up sheets of paper written by lawyers that come with every pill or potion you buy or collect from a pharmacy. It’s not the ‘may cause death’ thing that bothers me. So can eating pizza. It’s the rare side effects that I home in on and within days convince myself I have at least half. COVID-19 has been huge in my head. Even bigger than in the real world. With each new variant, there’s a list of revised symptoms and I get them all. I’ve worked my way through many a box of self tests. The inside of my nose must be squeaky clean from regular use of cotton buds. This needs to end. Now.
Below-the-line comments. Often found on newspaper websites, but also the same sort of content makes up 99.9% of Twitter. It’s like glimpsing the soiled underwear of a nation. These are people who lost their teeth to Mountain Dew. The Daily Mail website is like someone put Mein Kampf on shuffle. It’s the home of the stupid.
Under recipes, you find gems like: “This was NOT GOOD. I didn’t have eggs, so I substituted jalepeños and the batter wouldn’t hold. Also, I was out of white sugar so I substituted anthrax. Hubby died! But so did my stepson, who I hated. 2 stars.”. Before memes there were bumper stickers. Before that was the renaissance or some shit. I posted, ‘Hey everyone what’s your favourite doughnut?‘ It took just under a minute for superwowgirl77 to reply ‘I can only dream of them as unfortunately I am a celiac.‘ People weighed in, some to argue she was missing out, some to call her a killjoy, then the tide turned I became the evil one. I was cancelled.