Why don’t we do more of it?
Americans are reading less than they used to. Why? The majority of people think it is because of all of the technology that is available to us nowadays. Is this really the case? Why is it so critical that we, as a society, shift our focus back to reading? What benefits does it provide? How can you incorporate it into your daily life?
We live in a society that is more texted based than any other period in history. So, in actuality, we spend the majority of our time reading. For many of us, we have a hard time disconnecting. When we are reading, we looking at the internet or social media. This means the problem isn’t the lack of reading, but what we are reading. The majority of people don’t read books any more. If you ask a friend, have you read a good book lately or what book are you reading, what type of response do you think you’ll get? After a blank stare, you friend will probably say they don’t have time or there is nothing interesting to read. Sadly, adults aren’t alone in this lack of reading. Several government studies have found that since 1984 the number of 13-year-olds who read weekly decreased from 70% to 53% and the number of 17-year-olds went from 64% to 40%. Also, during the same time period, the number of 17-year-olds who don’t read at all went from 9% to 27%. What is causing this trend?
A good portion of people who are concerned about the lack of reading in our society blame it on technology. In some ways this is true, but not for the reasons you think. The most talked about reason is the invention of smart phones, which provides that ability to have information at your fingertips where ever you are and drives a constant need to be entertained. This need is a big contributing factor, but the main reason we don’t read as much as we used to is a shift in our thinking. In recent years, we have come to think that we need more and more people with a strong background in STEM education because this is where future careers will be. This type of thinking has caused a change in the way we teach academics. The focus is on STEM-related subjects rather providing a well-rounded education that includes more focus on humanities and liberal arts. Besides academics, some state governments and companies offer a bonus or premium pay for individuals who have STEM degrees. This is a problem for several reasons. Not everyone can have a job that is STEM-related—there aren’t enough of them and there are jobs that are important to the function of our country that have nothing to do with it. An issue that is coming to light with this shift is that business leaders are finding that people are less able to think/judge situations accurately, follow complicated instructions, understand co-workers or stand-up and talk in meeting. People who read are more likely to be able to do this because it exposes us to different ideas, places, people, customs, cultures and environments. Every book, whether it is fiction or non-fiction and contemporary or a classic, has the ability to teach you something. By using your critical thinking skills to analyze what you read, you improve your ability to analyze situations in your everyday life. Unfortunately, due to the fact that reading books makes us think, it is now viewed as work, a chore or a boring activity. If you have this viewpoint compare reading to all the other activities that you could do, it is no wonder that we don’t read books anymore. We all have incredibly busy lives and must allocate our time accordingly, so if you have to choose one activity over another, most people don’t choose reading books. How do we change this mindset?
We need to stop viewing reading as a chore or boring activity. Besides the valuable learning and increased analytical skills that you gain when you read, there are several other benefits. One of these is that our brains are more mentally stimulated which is essential in keeping it strong and healthy. Just like other muscles in your body, your brain needs to be strengthened in order to prevent decline. Due to this conditioning, reading books is a great way to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Your everyday vocabulary will increase because you are being exposed to many different words. Being articulate and well-spoken is extremely helpful when you are at work and in social situations. Reading books improve your ability to focus because you have to pay attention to what you are reading in order to understand the story. When you do this, you are able to tune out the rest of the world and become absorbed by what you are reading. This ability to concentrate will cross over into other aspects of your life, which will make you more productive. Also, this absorption into a book is a great way to reduce stress. When the outside world slips away, your stress usually goes with it. Depending on the subject matter of the book, you might be able to find some inner peace and tranquility, too. So, how do you make time to read to get all of these benefits?
One of the biggest excuses people use when it comes to reading is that they don’t have enough time. There is no question that we are very busy, but think of it this way. If you bring a book with you where ever you go and you find yourself waiting for something, such as traffic, at the doctor’s office or in a line, instead of using your phone, read the book. If you have a hard time staying connected to longer stories because of time constraints, then try short stories or poems. Since we are so busy, another excuse that people use is that they are too tired to read. So, don’t read at night. Try reading in the morning or on your lunch break. On the other hand, if the story is engaging, it might actually keep you awake because you won’t be able to put it down. People also say books are too expensive and they can’t afford to buy them. There are many options to make it more affordable to read, like a local used bookstore, the discount section of a new bookstore, finding free content on the internet/handheld e-readers, go to the library or exchange books with your friends. If you have children, not only is important to set a good example by reading yourself, but it is essential you read to them when they are young and encourage them to continue reading as they get older. It is a good idea to set time aside each day as reading time so that your whole family can sit down and read. Not only is it essential to nurture your children’s love of reading, but it is key to help them pick out appropriate material that helps them become thoughtful, empathic and open-minded.
It doesn’t matter how you read—on paper or digital, but what you read. There are so many different genres that there is definitely something for everyone. Popular fiction is a great way to get into reading. As you become more comfortable with reading different types of material, you can try out some of the classics by Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Jane Austin and many others. Even though many of their works are period pieces, the stories still resonate with experiences we have today. However, it doesn’t have to be a challenge every single time you read, it is just vital to read so you get in the habit of doing it. Books are one of the best ways to stay engaged with the world which leads us to becoming better people by answering many of life’s questions. When we read, we are opening our minds to new and exciting opportunities. So, what’s your next book going to be?