• Mack McKinney

Read a Book, ANY Book!

Updated: Nov 6, 2018

Have you noticed how seldom any of your friends mention a great book they have read? Not an online article or a short news article but a real, honest-to-goodness BOOK? Not very often, huh.

I know. Why bother? You can learn everything you need to know about most any subject with just a quick search on Reddit ™ , Google™ or Wikipedia ™, right?

Wrong. An insidious, sneaky thing is happening to us. We are losing the ability to read. Book sales have plummeted in just the past five years. This is more common among young people than middle-aged and older people. And here is the danger - - - if you don’t read books at all, very soon you’ll notice that you NEVER read books anymore and now here is the contentious question: WHY is that? Why do we stop reading books?

Several respected studies and books conclude that the reason is as follows:

· When we read short articles, and get quick answers, two things happen - - - 1) our brain gets a shot of the feel-good chemical dopamine as a result of our completing the research task we assigned ourselves and 2) our attention span shrinks just a bit.

· Soon we are more comfortable tackling short-duration tasks and so we do just that - - - every study task becomes a short-duration task as we force the problem-solving job to match our now-shrinking attention span.

· We are almost never required to consult a book to solve a problem or learn a new skill since someone else usually has developed the Cliff Notes © version which spoon feeds us ONLY what we must know to gain a basic familiarity with any new subject, computer, phone, TV, etc.

Eventually, we no longer have the patience to tackle a thick book with its slower progress and less fulfilling (no dopamine) effect on our minds.

The lure of the quick fix has dominated our actions for so long that any process that requires deep, detailed, significant thought will be avoided in favor of a shorter, more intense-feeling approach.

And since we lose what we don’t use, before we even know it has happened to us, we no longer CAN read a book on a complex subject that requires deep thinking, introspection and internal debate.

Multiple studies are showing that it is becoming extremely hard for young professionals to force themselves to read a book, ANY book, even on subjects of great importance to their chosen professions. Begrudgingly, they will read a book when assigned by their boss or as part of a course of study but not otherwise.

We get best at the things we do most frequently. If we never read deeply, many of us lose the ability to think deeply, especially over a long period of time, which is the very type of thought required to solve tough problems in life, to make decisions about courses of action (one career vs other candidates, where to live, etc.). If we ONLY make decisions quickly, after little/no deliberation, several things can happen and most of them are bad:

· We start to view ALL problems as being relatively simple, lending themselves to knee-jerk solutions.

· We lose the ability to stay engaged in a course of study over a long period of time, without getting bored. So we begin to avoid making decisions about any problem whose solution is not apparent after a few minutes of deliberation. And such “vexing” problems fester and often worsen, leading to crises in our lives.

· We don’t just enjoy the short-cycle of thinking and acting that shallow thinking brings us, we actually begin to need it. Studies show that the same people who do not read books also text frequently and spend a lot of time online. We’ll discuss this more in a later post but there is ample scientific evidence that young professionals who seldom read books and who are constantly texting and tweeting and browsing Facebook and other social network sites are rewiring their brains in ways that we don’t yet fully understand. But the need for constant social stimulation appears to be a byproduct of the rewiring process.

So here is some advice for people whose brains are in development, people between the ages of 16 and 30.

Hang out at the library once a week for an hour or two. Download a book pdf to your smart phone. No matter how you do it, just find subjects that interest you and read books on those things. Then branch into related topics. Go where the ideas take you and read, read, read. Or before you know it, you won’t have either the patience or the ability to do so. Use it or lose it.

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