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Real Reading: Pick Up a Damn Book!

Being chronically online has changed the way the world reads, and views reading. There are no pages to escape in.

Dark bookshelf with old, bound books.
Credit: Shutterstock/Reinhold Leitner

The beep of an X notification is the new slam of a book. Because nowadays, our books aren’t pages, but devices. It started subtly with eReaders like Kindle or websites like Audible. Those were subsets of reading that could make it more accessible.

Technology is no longer a subset though. It has created a world unstimulated by real pages. Instead of having to use imagination to see what we are reading, words are few and far between what we see. Everything has been moulded into multimedia; in the name of convenience, technological advancement, or in simply no name at all.

The places where people were once forced, encouraged, or able to read print books are changing.

Reading in school

Elementary schools used to give out paperback copies as class sets but that faded with higher education. Now at most high school and university levels, students source the web for cheaper and easier access to materials.

The average eBook is “31.9% less expensive than its hard copy counterpart” so it makes sense. The price difference can not be ignored. However, there are other losses than money to be accounted for based on new findings in media psychology.

To very broadly explain two concepts in January’s Reading Research Quarterly, reading online and reading in print foster different habits, engagement, and responses.

The terms used by authors Frank Hakemulder and Anne Mangen are eudaimonic and hedonic motives. Eudaimonic relates to reading in print. In this context, it means reading with the intent to find meaning in the text beyond a surface level. To find meaning beyond semantic (actual linguistic) terms, and attribute that to personal experiences and personal growth.

Infographic made in Canva explaining Eudaimonic Motivation
Simple eudaimonic motivation cycle made in Canva. Credit: Addie Uhl

The inverse, hedonic motivation, is a product of digitization. Hedonic motives correspond with reading for quick information and short-term pleasure. Think of this as using the search bar in a text to find exactly what you need, and ignoring the rest.

To read what this article has said so far with a hedonic motive, you would command F and find the next sentence only. Reading online leads to less absorption; into both the text being read and the process of reading itself.

Reading in leisure

Outside of academics and comprehension, what happened to just reading for fun?

Infographic made by Statista representing the decline in reading for pleasure.
Credit: Bureau of Labor Statistics and Statista

The amount of people reading for pleasure, specifically in younger generations, is on a steady decline. It makes sense because so many other activities have come about in their place. It isn’t that people don’t have free time anymore, it’s just allocated elsewhere.

Lots of young adults find reading boring compared to the multimedia engagement of video games, social media, and other screens. Commenting on this trend, Angie Hodapp, the Director of Literary Development at Nelson Literary Agency, said…

When brains are constantly bombarded by digital distractions, they get sort of accustomed to short bursts of cognition. They grow to need constant changes in speed, direction, frequency.

Angie Hodapp

Considering that, is this sense of boredom just because we are no longer accustomed to slow and uninterrupted thought?

That inability separates the reader from the story. Arguably, one of the coolest aspects of a story is being immersed in it. Seeing the setting, feeling the characters, moving along with the plot…To do all this, people need to read closely, without distraction, and with an open mind.

Not reading, and instead interacting with screens has us stuck in a negative feedback loop.

Infographic showing the feedback loop of screen usage on reading
Infographic Created on Canva Credit: Addie Uhl

The more time spent on screens, the more our brains learn to seek pleasure from quick content. Thus, when faced with long content again, people look for shortcuts to have that conditioned pleasure response.

Reading in life

You may be wondering why it even matters. If this is the direction the world is going in, a paper book won’t change that. In fact, being digitally literate is an important skill in this day and age. So what role does regular old reading even play?

Besides the scientifically supported academic claims that come along with it, there are lifely components. The book To Read or Not to Read by Sunil Lyengar notes that readers are more likely to engage in cultural and civic life. The examples he gives are going to plays, museums, volunteering, and voting.

On a broader basis, there are just a lot of things you can get from books that aren’t as accessible outside of them. Books can take you to different cultures, times, and perspectives from your bedroom.

Line of animated books to read
Animated books Credit: Shutterstock/Olena Dumanchuk

That “traveling time” makes reading a contradicting activity to the fast pace of modern life.

The decision to [read] is you saying to the world, ‘Not right now. Not until I say. This is my time. Time that I’ve earned. Time that I get to choose to live in a different world as a different person. I’ll get back to you later.’

Angie Hodapp of Nelson Literary Agency

It’ll be tricky to say this to the fast-paced world, to get back into books if the last one you read was To Kill a Mockingbird in 7th grade English. Thankfully, there are so many choices out there.

Creator @ellieeisreading Book Recommendations

From thrillers to love stories to non-fiction, I believe everyone can find a book that sparks their interest. It just takes the time to look.

Where to look

As reading has declined, the ecosystem it lives in has declined as well. But, one positive thing technology can do is connect readers. The immersion into a culture of books, and book recommendations, is just a few clicks away.

Book Graphic from GoodReads website
Graphic from GoodReads. Credit: GoodReads

GoodReads, for example, allows users to rate and review the books they have read. You can join groups and discussions, follow tags for your favorite genres, and log your journey through the year.

Sites like GoodReads are doing a great job of balancing “what can be” with “what shouldn’t change.” It is innovation, not alteration. So if you don’t have time to parade through a library, do a quick Google search. Articles with recommendations are everywhere.

Some recent favorites of mine, in a few different categories, are…

  1. Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (historical/biographical fiction)
  2. Verity by Colleen Hoover (thriller/romance)
  3. The Sign for Home by Blair Fel (coming of age/romance)
  4. The Things We Do to Our Friends by Heather Darwent (thriller/contemporary)

It’s a seesaw

Seesaw graphic
Unbalanced seesaw Credit: Shutterstock/NWM

To wrap up this online article about why you should read in print, I will acknowledge the paradox. It’s not plausible to read everything on paper, nor is it eco-friendly. But finding that “seesaw” like mentality, meaning allowing some things to sway digital, and some to always be print, will preserve the benefits of reading while growing with the times.

Allow yourself to get wrapped up in a story every now and then. To forget about the clock and become immersed in a word someone else created for you. Find the type of stories that have that power. The childlike wonder of existing in your imagination is not something age can steal.

Just pick up a damn book!

Written By

Hi! I'm Addie, a journalism student at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. I'm new to Trill, but have been writing for as long as I can remember. Originally I'm from Denver, Colorado, where I love to spend time with my snowboard, my guitar, and my dogs.

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