Needless to say, my younger cousin watches a lot of TV. And so the other day, when I was babysitting her, it struck me: had she ever read a book for fun? Intrigued, I asked her if she could bring a book for us to read, but she paid no mind to my question as she was fully immersed in the newest episode of “Teen Titans Go.” Only after I repeated my question multiple times, did she look up from her iPad screen. She was baffled. “Reading” she exclaimed as though it is some sort of foreign concept. At the time, I laughed, finding her exaggerated expression to be humorous. Little did I know, her reaction was not as exaggerated as I had anticipated. And so by the time I found some old children’s books in the basement and returned with them, my cousin was gone. She had already run to her parent’s room with her iPad and locked the door so as to seek shelter from the “enemy”: my book.
I was appalled. At her age, my world consisted of Junie B. Jones and Ms. Frizzle, Cat in the Hat and the Baudelaire siblings. In fact, even before I could read, I would spend hours upon hours analyzing the pictures in a book trying to develop my own storylines for the very hungry caterpillar or for Brown Bear. But the more I thought about it the more I began to realize I wasn’t much better than my cousin. Just a couple years back, I was an avid reader, finishing multiple books in the span of a month. But now, I loath just the thought of having to finish my required summer reading assignment.
Years and years of exposure to the Internet has trained my brain to read maybe two paragraphs, before I start to lose focus. Often my eyes will shift towards the edge of the screen to the scroll-bar so as to estimate how long the article will take to finish. And once my eyes leave the text, there is no going back. Suddenly, I am analyzing the “Articles you might enjoy” section. Suddenly my eyes are drawn to the “You won’t believe this” headlines. Before I know it, I am on Reddit reading up on Trump’s latest antics or even worse, I am on Buzzfeed reading about “How popular my Chicken Nugget opinions are.” Deep reading requires you to slow down and concentrate, an ability which I once had, but now due to unhealthy Internet habits, am gradually losing.
Oddly enough, neuroscience has proven that focusing on one task at a time, even if for extended periods, requires far less energy than quickly switching between different topics, as we often do when on the Internet. Cruising through various articles on the Internet will leave you drained, whereas deep reading makes you more able to undertake mentally demanding tasks. Even so, I often find myself whizzing from task to task as opposed to picking up a book and just reading.
This decline in reading is in fact a nationwide epidemic. A study conducted by the National Endowment of the Arts in September of 2016 calculated that only 43% of American adults have read at least one book over the course of the past year. This was a record low. And it isn’t that we as a society do not have the necessary time to read. According to a 2016 Nielsen report, the average American spends at least ten hours a day consuming media (Internet, radio, television, social media). Between work, sleep and the growing amount of media consumption, there is little time left for tasks that require intense concentration, like reading.
Though many of us find incorporating reading in our daily schedules to be difficult, influential entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Marc Cuban all set aside around five hours a day to read. Reading is their gateway to knowledge and self-improvement. Indeed, when asked about the root of his success, business magnate, Warren Buffett pointed to his piles of books. “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest,” he said. With 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week, we all have the time to devote just a few hours every week to read. It’s a matter of if we have the willpower to turn away from technology for even just an hour and direct all our attention to reading a book.
We are all aware of the endless benefits of reading. But what makes reading so hard is that it requires us to detach from the media-driven world and unfortunately, that for many people is a challenge. Developing strong reading habits like those of Buffett or Zuckerberg will undoubtedly be a battle, but hopefully with time, we will be able to form similar habits of our own. With the remainder of the summer, I encourage everyone to pick up a book and start reading. Don’t bother to open your latest snapchats. Don’t bother to check the latest status updates on Facebook. Don’t even bother to check the time. Just start reading. If we start to read more, then hopefully those younger than us will grow a liking for books as well. And maybe, just maybe, my cousin will not run away from me every time I mention reading a book.