Column, The Movie Diary

Taking it a little too easy, iPad edition

By Dom Cioffi

When I go to bed at night, I generally read before finally shutting things down. In the past, my reading came via books, but since the iPad was released in 2010, that device has become my main source of material.

I love the iPad for many reasons, but mostly because I have the world at my fingertips as opposed to just one book. If I lose interest in my current reading choice, I can easily swipe to something new. However, I’ll freely admit that without some discipline, the iPad can become a problem.

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The human brain is an interesting piece of machinery. Left to its own devices, it will almost always resort to what’s easiest. When it comes to the iPad (which is a gateway device to countless addictive possibilities), the brain will settle on as many short spurts of information as you can feed it, thus reducing the need or desire for longer forms of enrichment.

Over the last decade, I’ve become acutely aware of how my brain interacts with this device. Early on, I had no idea what was happening, but over time I noticed some dramatic changes in my reading and viewing habits.

The first thing I did when I got my iPad in 2010 was load it with all my favorite books and anything new I was interested in reading. This was truly the golden age of my iPad use. I carried the device with me everywhere, so I always had the option to peruse my favorite material.

And then I started visiting news sites more frequently. I had always enjoyed reading the news online, but the proliferation of content and exaggerated headlines had me feeling like I was missing out or being neglectful if I didn’t spend a good chunk of my time evaluating the day’s stories.

I bookmarked my favorite sites and soon had a routine that I followed when reading the various outlets.

I noticed my book reading dropping off as I started focusing more on the news. In the past, when a newsworthy subject captivated my attention, I would often buy a book by a reputable scholar and use that as my source of information. But with so much material available online for free, that option was too easy to ignore.

Soon enough, I was getting more and more of my information via the web.

And then one day I downloaded the YouTube app.

Once I had access to YouTube videos, all bets were off. Suddenly my reading dissipated, while my viewing increased tenfold.

As I said earlier, the human brain likes things easy, and it’s much easier to digest video than it is to read. And even though I absolutely love to read, the draw of video was too powerful.

Initially, I stuck to educational videos and news stories, but before long I was watching less and less “quality” entertainment. There has been much criticism of the YouTube “suggestion” algorithm, and I’m here to tell you it’s not a joke. The platform quickly figured out how much I love old sports clips, historical documentaries, and music videos and did everything in its power to slide those suggestions in front of me.

Things started to get dicey when I began drifting off into an endless suggestion hole. Before I knew it, I was watching videos about alien abductions, people having their zits popped, and old “Family Guy” clips. All these topics are interesting in their own right (well, maybe not the zits), but when you’re losing time and neglecting worthwhile reading endeavors, it’s a problem.

The turning point came when I realized that I had not read a book in months and instead had gone to sleep on a nightly basis consuming nothing more than video drivel. That moment of clarity forced me into removing the iPad from my nightstand and replacing it with a few books.

I’ll be honest, it took a couple of weeks to get comfortable again with reading, but once I purged my brain of its need for snackable video clips and insightful news stories, I began to feel more like myself again.

This week’s film, “The Starling,” starring Chris O’Dowd and Melissa McCarthy, features a middle-aged couple who are struggling to feel like themselves again after a traumatic event rocks their marriage.

This is a heartfelt drama that delves into the personal struggles we all go through when faced with an unimaginable loss and how each of us handles it differently depending on the conditions of our psyches.

Melissa McCarthy steps out of her comic persona to show immense depth in this role. Kudos to her for taking an already amazing career to the next level.

A hopeful “B-” for “The Starling,” available for streaming on Netflix.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]

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