By now, we have all heard ravings about the “death of print.” These ideas point to the internet and other such technologies as the main source of print’s supposed demise. The essentially infinite amount of audio and video content available at our fingertips or in our pockets has sped up consumption and slowed down original thought.
In step with the change from print to digital, the way we read has also transformed. We jump through articles, videos and podcasts, giving just enough attention to get what we need from it: a headline, a pull quote, an opinion. It is something to be consumed and passed over. Nothing more. This is skimming. Skimming is reading without effort. Skimming and reading are two tactics we need to employ to make through our day, but more and more, our environment is built for skimming over reading.
This difference translates to other ways we interact with the world, too. After all, reading isn’t just about texts. You read people’s faces. You read situations. You read rooms. You read artworks. Reading involves an engagement with the more complex aspects of a situation than just skimming. If you simply skim a person’s face, a situation, a room, or a painting, you may recognise what’s there, but not necessarily understand it.
But reading is work. When you read, you have to put in the effort. You have to pay attention. Reading goes against the way we have orientated ourselves to our media and the world.
Closing yourself off from this world to deeply engage with a book or a film or a thought, gives you the space to grow as a thinking person. It makes you a more empathetic person, as you concentrate on subjects and people for longer than the quick second it takes for you to see the easiest pieces of information. When you examine something as more than an object of consumption, and instead make an effort to understand the historical, rhetorical, social, symbolic, literary, or artistic aspects of its creation, you are reading it.
One of the powers of our digital world now is that we have access: access to any book written, any painting any song. When we give something the effort reading demands, we know a new kind of engagement. Books are the best example of this. When a book is opened before your face, it blocks the world from view and transports you to another one. There aren’t any tabs or notifications to steal your attention. While reading — really reading — the words on the page become your world. That’s why, even though you can read many kinds of media, print is still the best medium for practicing reading.
This is a call to start reading again. But it isn’t a call for reading anything in particular. Print, digital, film or otherwise. There’s no reading list to impose on yourself. This call is to freely engage with whatever you want, as long as you rediscover your ability to engage.
So sit down and read. Read something. Read anything.