I read a disturbing article the other day that wasn’t really all that shocking, but rather a sad reaffirmation of the signs that are all around me. Fewer and fewer people read books these days. Affirming that we are now part of a postliterate society, Peter Denton laments:
Simply put, we are no longer a country of readers – at least not of more than 1,000 words in a row. Anything longer is skipped over like those Internet terms of service agreements, jumping to the agree button at the end.
Preferring to communicate with images, Vines, and 140 characters or less, Denton points out the irony of how much emphasis and money we put into education, and yet, “We now have the intellectual attention span of squirrels – and it shows.”
For anyone who doesn’t read many books anymore or who thinks we have all we need on the Internet, I wanted to share a few reasons why we should still read books. I’ve gathered these reasons after reading a book, How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren (Yes, that’s how much of a nerd I am):
Because there is a big difference between gathering information and reading for discovery and understanding. Articles, tweets, and Facebook posts can give us some new information. But we are usually getting this information at a level that is easy to consume and purposefully not challenging to our own intellect. But learning is about more than absorbing new information. Information is just the basic building block to stretching our understanding and moving on to discovery. In order to grow in this way, we need more than a 1,000 word article even. We need to read from people over our head and engage in the process of learning from them so that we can then connect that knowledge to other ideas for new discoveries. It’s all very exciting, but the shallow waters of the internet will never get you there.
Difficulty does not mean we should stop. The Internet is physiologically changing our brains. I am going to repost an article on Thursday about this challenge. It’s becoming harder for us to focus on reading a whole article, much less an entire book. But we don’t have to give in to that. We need to exercise our brains to keep the firing paths moving for endurance in our attention spans and capacity to think deeply. Just like a constant diet of fast food makes us flabby, so too a constant intake of social media to the neglect of books and thoughtful meditation will make our brains flabby. So if you find it difficult to read more than five pages at a time or you find yourself falling asleep as soon you crack open a book, that is a sign that you should be putting in the work that it takes to be an active reader. It doesn’t mean that books aren’t for you. The rewards are always better when we prep a meal with fresh ingredients than when we are in a hurry and hit the drive-thru.