Reading Books vs Reading a News Feed

Taking the time to unplug from social media gave back hours to devote to reading books and it’s been awesome. I’m remembering the joys of devouring words for an entire afternoon or evening. One of my goals for the year was to read one book per month. I’m already easily more than halfway to 12 books and it’s barely March. I’ve always loved reading, but as social media crept into my life, I spent more time reading news feeds, status updates, and “content, and less time reading actual books.

Is this really a problem? I’m still reading words, right? So it can’t be that bad.

Not so fast.

A cursory Google search pulls up studies showing how technology is rewiring our brains – and yet it takes about 50,000 years for the human brain to actually evolve, so we’re not adapting nearly as quickly as we think we are. Our attention spans are diminishing while our desire for instant reward grows. As a teacher, I’m seeing this happen faster with younger students. I’ve been teaching for about a decade and students today have far more distractions and far shorter attention spans. They don’t have the discipline to practice because they don’t have to work hard to win a game on a device. We click links to “learn” or “discover” something, but we’re mostly rewarding ourselves with clickbait. “Content” is, by nature, short and engaging, because we apparently get bored when reading an article approaching 1000 words or more.

Stepping away from social media is allowing me to enjoy actual learning, real reading, and delving far deeper into subjects than a status update would allow. I’m currently reading Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and I’m continuously fascinated with how much more creative, intelligent, and innovative people were when we didn’t have so much information at our fingertips. If someone in the 1800s wanted to find out how old the universe is, or why the sky is blue, or at what temperature water boils, s/he had to devise, carry out, and record an experiment.

We live in the information age and yet so little information is sticking. We’re learning to store information outside the body and our brains are creating pathways to use search terms, not remembering the information. For example, our grandparents could bake pies without a recipe. These days, you simply input the fruit and type of pie you’d like to make, and endless options await in your search results. You no longer need to memorize the perfect recipe because you can try a new one every week.

I’d much rather read a book than a status update. I’d much rather write a book than a status update. I haven’t made too much progress on my book, but (as my post history will show) I have made progress on the blog, and that’s a big step for me. I’m focusing much more on long-term rewards, what TRULY makes me happy, and slowing down. I don’t actually NEED to know what’s going on with everyone in my social circle in order to be happy myself. Learning, storing, and recalling information in my own head is thrilling – even with challenging concepts like quantum physics and the size of the universe. It’s fun to challenge myself to grasp these big ideas at a time when it feels we are constantly bombarded by fluff. What really matters?

What would Laura Ingalls Wilder do? If she wanted to know how her friends were doing, she’d get in the wagon and go visit, take a walk to visit, or write a letter. There is no need to be so involved in the lives of everyone around us and the content companies generate to encourage us to click. Be at peace with yourself. Be at peace with the silence. Learn to let things go, and what’s important will find its way to you without being constantly connected.

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