Being a writer can sometimes be quite an isolated profession. It takes an incredible amount of time to get from an initial idea to even just a first, presentable draft. You sit at your computer and write, rewrite, delete and sometimes come close to giving up entirely. No wonder that even the most experienced writers sometimes question why they even bother. Aren’t books dying out anyways? Isn’t reading so last century by now? In short: What’s the point? That is the question which I will try and find answers to in this ongoing series.
Have Netflix and YouTube killed the book?
You can’t really talk about writing and not also at least think about reading. After all, we write books so that someone can read them. Actually, I would even argue that readers might be the most important part of the “book equation”. For me, a good book should open up various lines of interpretation. It may well deal with an issue which is shared between all of us as human beings but in its narrative, it should be fluid enough so that it may adapt to the numerous different life situations and experiences that each individual reader will bring into his/her reading experience. However, for my point to be of any sort of value, we need to assume that there actually still are people reading.
Many people I know don’t read books. And this is not limited to people my age. I know that especially baby boomers have a tendency to complain about the younger generations being hooked to their phones and not reading anymore but I have to say that I also know plenty of, let’s call them “people with more life experience”, that don’t read regularly. In some ways, I can also understand why. Today’s technology is brilliant. Netflix has such a big choice of series and films that most people don’t even watch anything on there anymore. They just spend 45 minutes struggling to choose something and then give up because their fear of commitment kicks in. YouTube is even better in my opinion because it basically allows anyone on the planet to create their own original content.
Watching content surely has some advantages over reading it. You just lean back and take it in. Depending on what you decided to watch, you might even be able to completely tune out and still somehow consume the content. YouTube also has a feature that is so perfect for today’s lifestyle and until recently I didn’t even know people used it in that way. YouTube gives you the option to play the video of your choice in different speeds, so you can either slow it down or speed it up. A few weeks ago, I watched a YouTube video and the person in that video very casually mentioned that they watch every video at 2X speed. I was completely baffled but I guess it just goes to show how digital media really does shorten our attention span.
So is that just “it” for the book? Beaten by commodity? It is true that you can’t really speed up a book, you’re just stuck with whatever your individual reading speed is. However, I do believe that there are some inherent advantages to reading, which make it a completely different experience from watching something on a screen.
Reading means transforming your mind
Firstly, let’s get back to that attention span. From personal experience, I would say that I remember a lot more of a specific type of content when I read it in comparison to when I watch it. Yes, you do need to put in more effort when you read but that effort also awards you something. You pay attention over longer periods of time, you focus and analyse what you consume at the same time. In my experience, people who read regularly are often more patient and able to focus on tasks without getting distracted. Remember that fear of commitment regarding Netflix I mentioned earlier? If the desperate subscriber to a VOD (Video On Demand) service is like the fickle Casanova leaving in the middle of the night after a one-night-stand, the common bookworm is like the idealistic hero of one of the great love stories, fearless, firm and committed until his dying breath to the one s/he loves!
Secondly and maybe most importantly, there is one aspect of storytelling that you will never be able to experience through film. Through the written word, we are actually able to live through the thought process of a different person. You may be able to ignore the beggar on the street, you may even be able to see through him/her in a film but it is much more difficult when you are actually put inside his/her mind. Literature has the incredible ability to break our conception of duality. This is something that I slowly realised over the past couple of years and the more I thought about it, the more baffled I was. Reading can make us feel more connected with other people, and it can do it in a way that no other form of media can even come close to. In my personal opinion, this makes books one of the closest things we have to actual magic in this world.
It may be true that less and less people read nowadays. However, I don’t think that it is a lost cause. Literature, books and the mere act of reading are worth defending because they are to this day still unbeaten in what they do best: bring us closer together than we could have ever thought possible. We can all do our part to keep this wonderful part of humanity alive. If you’re a parent, read to your children! Read to them with joy and passion, join them in adventures through the wondrous debts of our minds! And if you are someone who read books in the past but sort of lost touch over the years: I promise you, Lady Literature is still there, waiting for you. She never left and right now, she is holding out her hand to you. It is never too late. Join her and let her take you once again on a journey through the infinite possibilities of this beautiful existence.
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