Today I spent time reading articles in their entirety. It’s something I rarely do anymore, and I suspect many of you share this problem.
There’s a severe psychological struggle that’s been created by the web and particularly amplified by social media. The mental rewards we receive for sharing what we’re reading has become stronger than the act of reading.
The user flow of reading 20 years ago was pretty simple. You would look through a collection of books, magazines, or newspaper articles, then:
- Read it.
- Process it during and after you were done.
- Maybe tell some friends about it, but only if prompted.
These days the process is quite different. You’re being served up content to read before you’re done with the current set of words in front of your face. You’re also thinking about how your reading choices (and your views around those choices) are being perceived by others.
The carrot of reading today is rarely about stirring up your imagination or teaching you something you didn’t know before. It happens of course, but far less than your link-sharing friends will have you believe. Today we’re driven less by what the words on a page (or screen) do for us, but rather by how they can be used to trigger other people to give us that satisfaction.
In the end we’re still trying to make certain chemicals in our brains fire off and make us feel good, but reading seems to be a more indirect path to that outcome now. Because the internet is so rapid and abundant, we’ve learned to spend less time reading and just fast-forwarding to the social validation part and worry less about the individual fulfillment we get from experiencing a piece of writing alone.
Today I spent some time actually reading. I read three pieces including Transitional Housing, The Collective Value of Diversity, An Interview With Max Temkin, and a handful of posts in my Medium collection Best Thing I Found Today.
Perhaps by telling you this and writing this entire post I’m being a hypocritical, but my goal is to make you think about your own reading habits.
Is your day composed of reading 10% of 100 articles or 100% of 10 articles? I assure you that you won’t miss any big story and you’ll be fine if you learn about a story later than everyone else. Reading in 2014 doesn’t really seem to be actually reading anymore. I hope you consider how we can change this together.
Don’t share this article.