Who can argue the power of books? In a moment you can be in a submarine at the bottom of the sea being attacked by a giant squid, or you can be on a spaceship navigating outer space, meeting new species, or you can be a spy or a private detective or a normal boy who discovers he’s a wizard. There is an adventure to suit every taste. It’s available with a quick visit to the library or a swift tap of the download button.
Paradoxically, today, fewer people read in their free time than those in previous generations (shhhh, including myself). I bet you have a good idea for what is behind this phenomenon. With the constant stream of new information, entertainment and technology—the latest video games, toys, TV, movies, or just the Internet in general. There are infinite choices of hobbies and activities to capture our attention.
I’m not here to argue—I can even agree that this isn't entirely negative. Yet, I’m bothered to see that good, old-fashioned reading is being left behind. And when I observe our lifestyle, I say, no wonder. Honestly, there are many reasons for the change, too many to fit into one article. However, here are three of the largest factors that totally impact our choices.
New games and technologies are being constantly replaced with newer, faster, better ones. The Internet is a continual distraction, allowing instant interaction at almost all times. Not to mention a stream of information easy to get lost in for hours when searching for a small fact. Everything is right there at our finger tips. Smart phones are not just phones, but mini computers in the palm of your hand, with millions of apps to choose from that can do nearly anything you can imagine. With cloud technology, all your data can be stored, shared between people and devices wherever you are so that your favorite games or movies, emails, or even browsing history are always with you. All of that, without even mentioning social media like Facebook and Twitter. And let’s not forget, technology offers the convenience of shopping online. With so many distractions it’s no wonder people don’t read as much.
The modern world is not only mobile but also visual—leaving very little for our imaginations—it doesn’t take a lot to move forward or to grow—you really don’t need a book to spread your wings and fly.
Education programs have a direct impact on students’ afterschool hours—ironically, they might even discourage reading for fun. English classes assign many books, often even important books, for students to read, including Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dickens. Historical and classic literature is often very difficult for students to relate to, leaving a bad after taste for would be readers. If a student is made to dissect Shakespeare at school, he is much less likely to come home and want to read. He’ll want to do something else to distract him from the hard work of understanding antiquated language. And if this is the only reading he does, well it doesn’t do much to encourage him to pick up a book in his own time. He’s much more apt to pick up a game controller.
The other issue with making children read certain books and grading them on it falls into the psychological concept called the over justification effect. In essence, this effect is based on the idea that when a reward (i.e. money) is given to someone for an action that they already find interesting, that previously intrinsic interest and motivation will decrease.
Most of us are overworked and have little spare time. There are a million little things that occupy our attention. Our schedules are saturated. We wake up in the morning and we are working from a never-ending list of things that need to be done.
Of course there are many issues that keep us from picking up a book. But once you sit down and get lost in a book and discover the joy of interacting with your own imagination, I’d like to think you’d be hooked on reading. You just have to meet that book, the right one for you. Reading is an exercise where you learn about yourself—your likes and dislikes, your sense of morality, your ideas about what is possible. It’s a place to find camaraderie and solace. It is sad to think that this is being denied to so many in a world where we are overwhelmed with technology and desperate to find those human connections. I believe reading will always have its place and I hope you will discover a new adventure for yourself… today.
Let me know what book is next on your reading list.