Monday, 22 February 2010

Do people read any more?

Recently I've ended up idling away time in various waiting rooms, and I was struck by an odd observation.

There used to be a protocol to the act of waiting. When you arrived it was essential not to catch anyone's eye or you'll find yourself discussing the weather, you had to sit the furthest away from anyone you can manage, and you had to lay claim to the least uninteresting looking magazine you could grab. And then you found yourself descending into brain-numbing torpor as you were transported away to that weird parallel world where people you've never heard of are deemed celebrities just because they are pictured visiting places and other 'ordinary' people tell you about their diseases.

This time I couldn't help but notice that the quality of the brain-numbing magazines appears to have somehow plummeted. Last year's trivial drivel would now be deemed hard-hitting journalism. All I seemed to find were in-depth articles about fat people wanting to be thin and thin people wanting to fat. Even the comics have become awful. The Beano now appears to have only two cartoon strips amidst the adverts and the only entertainment to be had was punctuating the speech bubbles properly. It's no wonder kids don't understand apostrophes when the comic writers don't care either. Anyway, that aside, the magazines I picked up were old but also very much unthumbed. I can’t blame anyone not wanting to read 'how I lost 27 pounds a month until I disappeared using the sharpened axe diet' but nobody but nobody was reading the magazines.

Once, not long ago, I'd glance up at the clock every so often and note that I was surrounded by a sea of people all immersed in reading material, but not now. Given fifteen minutes of downtime, people would sooner stare into space. I found myself watching people. They'd arrive, plonk themselves down on a chair, look straight ahead, and that'd be it. Never once did their eyes drift down to the colourful magazine covers depicting soap stars, diets, and horrible diseases. It was almost as if reading material wasn't important, something not to look at, something that wasn't in their sphere of interest and so as unimportant as the 'don't...' warnings on the wall, personal hygiene and holding doors open.

It didn’t matter what type of person came in or whether there was an interesting looking magazine on the top of the piles featuring cars, holidays, computers, the history of the Patagonian railway system; nothing generated an interest, leaving me alone to wade through the mire. During one foray I read that Reader's Digest is closing down due to lack of interest. I reckon I saw the reason sitting around me staring into space, deep in thought about more important matters as they awaited the chance to shout, 'I'm at the dentist' into their mobile.


David Cranmer said...

I'm depressed because I know that your observations are true.
I handed a co-worker (very intelligent) a rough draft of a story of mine. He struggled to read the piece and missed several key plot points and the twist ending. "I haven't read since high school" was the answer that floored me. So I'm sure we could fill to capacity many waiting rooms with people like that.

Ray said...

Wherever I go I take a book. One problem with waiting room mags that most of them have already been read - so who wants to know about the daft woman who married the man who killed her husband but didn't know that he did it. Most of the people in the waiting room know how the story ended - so why go there again? I know that the next time I wander into the surgery the next headline will be along the lines of 'we know who killed Archie Mitchell' - which they didn't at the time of publication.
So, I carry a book instead.

Chris Creel said...

Sad and funny observations. People to like to talk a lot and use their phones in waiting rooms. Listening to the phone conversations and medical conditions of complete strangers is pretty annoying too.

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