Here’s Why You Should Put Away Your Electronics And Pick Up A Book

Last year, I read a whopping 3 books.  

My Women’s Studies professor assigned the first (I plead the fifth about whether I finished it). Then I skimmed the second one to procrastinate on math homework. That leaves an epistolary novel about time-traveling star-crossed lovers as the last book I read in 2020.  

If you spent your childhood sans smart devices, you likely grew up reading regularly. My generation lived on Magic Treehouse, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games. As a child, I inhaled novels at a spitfire pace, reading them in one sitting then begging my mom to buy the sequel. Books were my oxygen. 

What changed? 

Although I can’t pinpoint a specific time, the slow yet sudden encroachment of TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram replaced the dopamine rush reading once elicited. The addicting “endless scroll” – not compulsory school reading – destroyed the magic of the novel. Those of us enraptured by the 24-hour news cycle aren’t exempt from this bombardment of excess stimuli either.  

Why stare at underwhelming black text when we could revel in media delivered to us by recommendation algorithms that know us too well? 

This won’t serve as another article decrying excessive media consumption. Most of us understand its negative implications for our attention spanability to socialize in person, and feelings of self-worth. Instead, I posit reading as a reprieve from our electronic fixation.  

Reading To Unplug 

Searching for a way to detach from devices? Look no further than the classic paper novel. It requires a shocking 0 Watts of power and some decent lighting to operate.  

Today, both work and play largely center around some sort of device, be it our phones, computers, tablets, or gaming consoles. Whether we utilize technology to produce or distract, reconnecting with the world around us enables self-awareness. 

This simple self-attunement underpins the theme of thousands of years of philosophy and religion. If introspection lacked significance, past scholars surely would have dedicated their time to more important endeavors.  

Reading Teaches Empathy  

Reading (in particular, reading broadly) teaches us empathy, inspires and motivates us, and enhances our perspective. It actively works against the danger of a single story, a concept Chimamanda Adichie so eloquently speaks about. A scarce resource these days, empathy counters the culture of pervasive polarization that media exacerbates.  

Moreover, reading empowers us to self-empathize. For me, books have long served as an escape from school and life stress. Reading books with characters I related to made me feel seen. Nothing uplifts me more than reading about flawed characters who still grow and learn, like in John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. We all possess flaws and the potential for greatness—reading reminds me of this fundamental universal truth.  

Reasons To Not Read 

Some may argue that reading renders you bored. Why regress to antiquated means of entertainment when the Internet provides instant access to all the world’s knowledge?  

Think again.  

Our technology – while developing at a fierce pace – remains unable to replicate the human mind and consciousness. The threshold of consciousness required by reading surpasses that of other media forms. To effectively read, we must be entirely present.  

Our brains create subjective meaning out of the black squiggles that litter the page. Then we synthesize that with perspectives built upon years of stimuli intake fused with our natural dispositions.  

Inside each of our skulls lives an incredibly perceptive machine that patches together sensory information so quickly that we only see two movies: our reality and our imagination. What better way to respect the phenomenal capabilities of brains than by reading? 

So, I urge you to please read more, even if only for 5 minutes, even if you get distracted and close the book minutes later. You will build your attention span, and you might just fall in love with books again (or for the first time).  

You can surely pick up a book today. I went from reading 3 books in 2020 to 26 in 2021 while possessing the attention span of a hyperactive goldfish. I suggest four of my favorites if you need a recommendation: 

Know My Name by Chanel Miller 

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera 

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker 

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi