The recent US election brought with it an epidemic of internet addiction. I know this all too well since I was one of the victims. I found myself refreshing news apps multiple times per day, or typing the word Trump into Google’s search bar with an unholy mixture of dread and insatiable desire. The result of the election came as such a shock that I found myself suddenly cured.
It was almost as immediate as the departure of a bad dose of hiccoughs. With it came an instant disdain for the once-loved news apps on my phone. They were all deleted on the day the results came out.
That morning, rather than tackle the pile of letters for dictation, I headed to the National Gallery to restore my tattered faith in humanity. I appreciate that this sounds a little dramatic, but it is all quite true.
And now, I continue to find solace in things that are as far removed from the ugly stupidity of Donald Trump as I can. I have also realised that, in my growing internet news addiction, I have developed another complication – reader’s block. I haven’t read a book in months. Whenever I tried, I was too impatient or intolerant of the writer’s turn of phrase to get past the first few pages. This is a far commoner and more insidious disease than its more glamorous cousin – writer’s block. Even worse, I had a nagging feeling that it was something that I might easily share with Donald Trump.
As Jane Austen said: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
I am convinced, to the point of almost certainty, that Donald Trump is not a fan of Jane Austen. I am also reasonably convinced that Donald Trump is not a great reader of books. The rigours of medical school ensure that no doctor can, in the words of Jane Austen, be intolerably stupid.
Yet the rigours of the medical profession do dictate that we are often intolerably busy, and modern technology has only made the situation worse. I suspect that many of my fellow medics are suffering, to a greater or lesser extent, from both internet addiction and reader’s block. The cure for both is the same.
Spend less time reading the repetitive froth of the Internet and pick up a good book. Of course, therein lies the rub – which books to read. As part of my post-election rehabilitation I have decided to embrace the concept of a virtual book club through this column and revisit books that I have loved in the far and more recent past. I will be choosing books or writers that have links with medicine, without compromising on quality.
The very best novelists had great insights into human nature. As doctors, we should aspire to no less. The best memoirs can be truly inspiring and allow us to see through the eyes of others. As doctors, we should aspire to no less.
The book club will kick off properly in the next column with ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.’ This is a memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor-in-chief of the magazine ‘Elle.’ If you want to cure reader’s block this is an excellent place to start. Although no CME points may be allocated to reading novels, they can be as informative and illuminating as a research paper, and certainly far more enjoyable. Perhaps, in time, the powers that be will realise this. Surely an hour or two of CME for reading literature wouldn’t be too much to ask. But what category would such an activity be listed under? When it comes to this first book, I would have no hesitation to suggest ‘Insight.’