Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reading has power..books have power..





Reading: A Cure for the Disadvantages of Technology
In an essay on education, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche opens by suggesting that if a traveler unaccustomed to modern life were to observe human nature, the most prevalent quality he would see in man would be laziness. Indeed, humans are a lazy species, often not caring to spend leisure time productively, and not often taking any effort to improve themselves intellectually. When Nietzsche wrote that essay however, everyday life was not disrupted by the many distractions of today- since his lifetime, the laziness and unproductiveness of the populace has only increased, and by a dramatic amount. The 21st Century is characterized by superfluity- the Internet, iPads, and Smartphones- while entertaining and sometimes very useful, are also a severe culprit of killing time and significantly decreasing productivity. Nietzsche may have viewed the human species as lazy, but at least in his time one of the most common forms of recreation was reading- an activity that many scientists have found to improve brainpower and provide a much richer and ennobling understanding of the world.
The Power of Books
The benefits of reading on a regular basis are both vast and profound. In her study What Reading Does for the Mind, Anne Cunningham explores the cognitive consequences of reading, and finds that the consistent incorporation of reading into daily life increases a number of cognitive capabilities, from skills of analysis to verbal skills and memory functions. However, it is not only their positive effects on brain power that make books so valuable- a good book, such as many from the 20th century movement of modernism, can greatly heighten the reader’s understanding of both themselves and the world in which they exist. For the goal of modernism was largely to strip away the false layers and veneers of the human character, such as morality and material aspirations, that artist’s saw as being handed on to them by society, and to subsequently produce an authentic expression of the intrinsic self. As a result, modernist texts such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, or Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost time, while challenging, are also profoundly rewarding, offering the reader an in-depth insight into the integral consciousness of the individual. Both writers sought to do away with the sentimentalism of previous movements, and capture an entirely new and more authentic view of love and life, and in the process they provide the reader with an ennobling understanding of the world - an understanding that could not be so powerfully communicated by any medium other than literature.
The Problem with Technology
The Internet, iPads, Smartphones- these in many ways are no more than distractions. For many people gaming apps and trolling webpages and social media sites have come to consume a significant portion of their day, and often for no positive effect other than a mild and extremely fleeting amusement. Perhaps more important an issue than the lack of benefits from modern technology however, is the number of negative effects that they have. Nicholas Carr’s book Shallows, examines how spending too much time with technology can significantly lower attention spans, decrease memory, and even affect our ability to interact with one another. What’s more, the modern obsession with technology is generally wholly unproductive. A good solution may be to get cash for selling an iPad 4, 3, 2, 1 or a mini, and use it for more beneficial purposes such as books, because when considering the studies of Cunningham and Carr, if people read as much as they used social media sites, their brainpower and understanding of the world would be enhanced dramatically.
Finding a Balance

Of course, the purpose of this article is not to altogether blackball technology, but rather to simply bring to light its negative consequences- consequences that are actually quite worrying when contrasted with the benefits of spending leisure time reading. Many people will argue that devices such as iPads will actually promote reading, as they offer users a vast library of books to download and access instantly, but with the internet only a click away, and with emails and other messages constantly coming through, the temptation to stop reading as soon as attention wavers is likely to be too great. Instead, a good idea is to put down the iPad and pick up a book, at least once a day- or even better, significantly cut down on unproductiveness by getting rid of it altogether.


Thank you to a friend Lisa Paynter for writing this great article and allowing me to share it here.

1 comment:

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