Sunday, August 16, 2015
Reading Matters in Tech Distracted World
This past weekend I was at a training day for my work as an adjunct professor at a local college. The main speaker and one other session I attended lamented the struggle of getting college students up to the challenge of reading for their classes. This reminded me of the “surprising book facts” graphic shown above that a friend recently had posted on Facebook. The stats on reading were concerning to me as someone who loves reading and promotes reading to students. There was no source listed so I wonder if some of the stats may be too high but sad to say from other reports I have read on reading in America I don’t think they are too off.
How do we get the message out that “reading matters”? I would like to share some thoughts from a small book by David Ulin, The Lost Art of Reading. It is based on an essay he wrote for the LA Times on August 9, 2009. The books seems to be a response to a young family member saying to him that “reading is over”. In our modern culture of less and less reading being done, it is easy to feel that reading is over. That is where I feel it is important for those who love books and know the importance of reading to promote the importance of reading and that it makes a difference.
Ulin shares how he grew up in a house full of books so he was aware of books from a young age. I like what he states about what drew him to reading, “ their nearly magical power to transport us to other landscapes , other lives.” (page 10). That is one element I remember of books I read in Summer reading programs as a child. From my small town in Ohio I was able to learn of diverse other places and peoples in the world. He shares how reading impacted other writers as well. He lists a long quote about reading from a writer Frank Conroy’s memoir , “Safe in my room with milk and cookies I disappeared into inner space. The real world dissolved and I was free to drift into fantasy, living a thousand lives, each one more powerful, more accessible, and more real than my own.” (page 12) I response to that Ulin states, “…you get a whisper of the power of books to change us to alter our emotional DNA. The key is to think about reading as a journey of discovery, and excavation of the inner world.” The idea of inner space relates well to my early reading experiences. I felt like I was in a different world.
Other important points about reading he brings out is “Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being… This is what Conroy was getting at, the way books enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own.” (page16). This thought relates to deep mindful reading which is truly an act of contemplation. That is what is so relaxing about reading and yet it is building up our minds and imaginations.
This strengthening of the mind is weakened by the modern habit of surfing the internet. Ulin describes research that discusses how high tech Web surfing impedes comprehension and concentration. He quotes a section from Carr in The Shallows where a UCLA researcher describes the results of studies on those who surf the net : “That ‘our growing use of the Net and other screen based technologies,’ has undermined “our capacity for the kind of deep processing that underpins mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.” (page 133). To me that describes our dumbed down population lacking in critical thinking which I mention in my Critical Thinking chapter of my book, Living More Than OK. All those good mind qualities mentioned can be strengthened by committing to the habit of reading. Think over the final statement in the “surprising book facts” I posted at the top of this post. Just reading 1 hour a day for 7 years in a subject can make you an expert. One hour doesn’t seem like much but multiply it out 7 times 365 days a year and you have 2,555 hours of reading. Also consider the graphic below about students doing reading 20 minutes a day which I felt was an eye-opener. Clearly it can be seen that reading matters!
Near the end of the book is an important thought that booklovers need to reflect on in promoting reading. “Lately, I’ve begun to think of this as the touchstone of a quiet revolution… Reading , after all, is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction, a matter of engagement in a society that seems to want nothing more than for us to disengage. It connects us at the deepest levels; it is slow, rather than fast. That is its beauty and its challenge: in a culture of instant information, it requires us to pace ourselves…In the midst of a book, we have no choice but to be patient, to take each thing in its moment to let the narrative prevail.” (page 151). If we know reading matters we need to speak up and promote reading, support our local libraries, and local bookstores in our towns. Reading has enriched my life over the years and will continue to be one of my favorite natural highs that make life a living more than ok experience.
Reflection: Why does reading matter to you? What do you think of the thought that reading one hour a day for 7 years can make you an expert? How can you promote reading?