Poetry Versus Angry Birds

“I have become comfortably numb.”

-Pink Floyd

When I commute into the city centre, I often take a book of poems. I read them eagerly on the way in to work. But after a long day wrestling with technical, logistical, and managerial issues, on the return journey I will invariably whip out my phone and tap away mindlessly at video games.

Certainly, energy is one factor in this pattern. Poetry demands attention (and good poetry rewards it in equal or greater measure); video games demand little but give back instantly in pleasurable (but short-lived) bursts. So, perhaps when I have less to give, I settle for the lightweight option. But this doesn’t explain the pattern entirely, because I often read and enjoy poems in the comfort of my own home when I am equally or even more tired — and I rarely play video games except to “kill time.”

The other factor is how incredibly uncomfortable I find being crammed into a tube carriage with strangers. Many people seem to take it in stride; for me every second counts. More than once, while playing video games, I have missed my interchange or only just looked up in time to get off at my stop. The stimulation and quick reward cycles of video games speed time up, which is exactly what I want at the end of a long day — to fast-forward through the unpleasant commute home.

Reading poetry, time behaves differently. Continue reading…