Actually Reading


Today I spent time reading articles in their entirety. It’s something I rarely do anymore, and I suspect many of you share this problem.

There’s a severe psychological struggle that’s been created by the web and particularly amplified by social media. The mental rewards we receive for sharing what we’re reading have become stronger than the act of actually reading.

Here’s how we used to read:

  1. Read.
  2. Think during and after about what you’ve read.
  3. Maybe tell some friends about it, usually only if prompted.

These days the process is quite different. You’re being served up content to read before you’re done with the current set of words in front of your face via notifications and dings. You’re also thinking about how your reading choices (and your public views around those choices) are being perceived by others.

The carrot of reading today is rarely about stirring up your imagination or teaching you something you didn’t know before. That does happen of course, but far less than your link-sharing friends might have you believe. Today we’re driven less by the words on a page (or screen) inspiring thoughts in our minds, and more by how a title or topic trigger other people to validate, praise, and fight us.

In the end we’re still trying to make certain chemicals in our brains fire off and make us feel good, but reading seems to be a more indirect path to that outcome now. Because the internet is so rapid in producing new content, we’ve learned to spend less time reading and instead just fast-forward to the social validation part. In other words, we’re forgetting to appreciate a piece of writing by ourselves.

Today I spent some time actually reading. I read three pieces including Transitional Housing, The Collective Value of Diversity, An Interview With Max Temkin, and a handful of posts in my Medium collection Best Thing I Found Today.

Perhaps by telling you this and writing this entire post I’m being a hypocrite, but my goal is to make you think about your own reading habits.

Is your day composed of reading 10% of 100 articles or 100% of 10 articles? I assure you that you won’t miss any big story and you’ll be fine if you learn about BREAKING NEWS later than everyone else. Reading in 2014 doesn’t really seem to be actually reading anymore. I hope you consider how we can change this together.

And oh, don’t share this article.