I enjoy books and found out about Libby last year. It’s a mobile app that allows people, in some countries, to borrow audiobooks and eBooks from their local Public Library for 21 days. If you’re not done reading within the loan period, you can renew or (if others are waiting) put another hold to get back in line. There are all sorts of amazing books at one’s fingertips for free. What’s not to like!
I have noticed however that now I might put holds on books that I’m just moderately interested in. Perhaps it’s a recommendation from someone but not what I need or want to read right now. Maybe I don’t even have time for it but because it has a long wait time, I get in line thinking I’ll have the space to absorb when my turn comes. Sometimes I’m too swamped to borrow when it’s my turn so I postpone my hold, while on other occasions I’ve excitedly borrowed a book I really wanted only to realize there are other books with fast approaching due dates that need to be finished first. Occasionally I finish the books before return date, which is very satisfying, but mostly I’m at various stages of completion when time runs out and I just don’t have the bandwidth to put another hold…so I let it slip. At these moments I feel like I have “failed” my intent. All kinds of amazing books in different genres―business, psychology, social commentary, history, fiction―partially read or unread. As if I’m juggling expiration dates, my reading moods and work rhythms, and they rarely match. The stakes to borrow are low, and the options and moods endless. The result: a very low start-to-finish rate confirming a distracted and uncommitted mind, which leaves me dissatisfied and displeased with myself, and sometimes even mildly anxious. But then I pause to notice an array of finished and deeply consumed books. The difference most often is that they are physical books, with higher stakes to acquire and maintain. I buy what I really want to read.
You might not have the same problem with books but this “endless shelf” of convenience and eventual disengagement is a fixture of our modern lives. It permeates culture and morphs our behavior in unexpected ways. You see it in how we consume products, interact with one another over social media, while dating, in friendships, and while tending to relationships in general. The endless shelf follows us unexpectedly into life’s nooks, molding us in the process without us even realizing. What starts off as convenience becomes an overabundance of options in a way that distracts us from committing to something meaningful that’s within reach. We see the next thing that piques our interest and drop what we had almost commited to without realizing that we dropped it. Over time, this history of perpetual motion without any real anchors makes us feel unmoored. Not connected to anything, anyone or even ourselves meaningfully to notice. And who might notice and help correct our lack of commitment anyway when everyone’s attention is getting scattered and splintered the same way? Who is committed enough to us to notice and help address our lack of commitment?
We are all wired differently and we move to different personal rhythms. But what is common is that we all need the weight and strength of commitment to live lives that are saturated with meaning and love. What doesn’t help create this heft and joyous saturation is the endless digital shelf where we keep looking to what’s next instead of commiting to what’s right here in front of us. Fear of Better Options (or FOBO) makes us continually disengage and surf the surface, which is antithetical to a well lived life. The first step in reclaiming our commitment is to notice our endless shelves and the second, arguably harder, step is to recommit to engagement because that is where all of life’s nectar is.
“May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquilities.” ― John O’Donohue