All of our modern gadgets — laptops, smartphones and tablets — distract us from the real world and discourage social interaction. You know the argument, short attention spans and all that. But is this really a new phenomenon? Would it be any better if we all went back to reading good old-fashioned books? Dalrymple says no.
It should not be taken for granted that reading is necessarily a good thing in itself, the sign of a developed mind or a healthy spirit. Like Somerset Maugham I would rather read a railway timetable than nothing at all, and this cannot be a manifestation of complete psychic health. (On occasion I have even resorted to telephone directories, in the days when they still existed, and found them to be not without interest.) He, Somerset Maugham, found all human company tiresome after an hour or two and longed for the comfort of the printed page; this can hardly be taken as a model for what everyone should be like.