47. Reading Recommended

Good morning and welcome to your forty-seventh meditation. How much do you read? Don’t worry, this isn’t a test. There’s no judgment in the question. If your answer is hardly at all, that would make you completely normal on this particular score. A recent survey conducted by Pew Research showed that more than a quarter of Americans said they hadn’t read a book in over a year. The New Yorker said that as of 2016 the amount of time  the average American spent reading was down to .29 hours, or just 17 minutes, per day. By 2018 that number was down to 6 minutes per day among adults aged 20-34, according to Statista. 

It’s easy to think this is some kind of a sign of the decadence of the modern world. The dumbing down of civilization. But this attitude is unnecessarily judgmental, and wrongheaded. Consider for a moment how many more ways we have to access information nowadays than did the reader of yore. They depended on the written word in order to learn anything that was beyond the scope of the people within their immediate vicinity. How horribly unfair history was to those of us who learn better from listening, or from watching, or from doing, as so many of us do. Thank goodness that now there is TV, movies, radio, podcasts, apps, video games, and the internet, each medium offering access to information in its own unique way. To regard people who don’t read as stupid or uneducated, then, is not only an unfair judgment, it is also inaccurate. So if you number yourself among the legions who don’t read, or don’t read much, be careful not to judge yourself. You have no reason to feel guilty. There are lots of other ways you can educate yourself that may be better suited to your learning style.

But… 

there are also some arguments to be made for picking up a book if you aren’t in the habit of it already. Firstly, since none of those other mediums mentioned above existed before around the twentieth century, we can access most of the wisdom of the many centuries before that only through books. It would be unnecessarily limiting to consume only media produced after, say, 1950, when there is over a millennium of thought that precedes that date, documented for our education and enjoyment. Of course, there are always audiobooks. And if these work better for you than words on a page, great. But there is also something special about the silence involved in actually reading. To say nothing of the benefits of quiet time to our minds and bodies, to read a novel or a poem is to enter a world of the mind. A world that is all your own. Sure, the author supplies you with the words and the images, but it’s your imagination that decides what those images really look like. It’s your own creativity that allows you to hear the timbre of the characters’ voices, and the varied sounds of the landscape. In this way, reading is a highly interactive form of media because you are called upon to create along with the author, so that any book you read becomes your own, in a sense. So if you don’t read now, no worries. There are lots of other ways to receive information that surely have their own unique advantages. But without doubt reading has its singular benefits too, and perhaps those are enough to persuade you to have another crack at it. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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