I haven’t read a book in well over a year.
Sure, I dip into books, extracting what I need for work. Often and ironically, this involves writers whom I invite to Ramsay Talks to speak about their . . . books.
I also listen to books feverishly, gobs and gobs of them. If it’s an author I’m used to and the plot isn’t too complex, I’ll amp up my speed from 1.25X to 1.50X. I gave up listening to them at 1.0X long ago because it’s so s-l-o-w.
But actually read 75,000+ words on a page or a screen starting on Page 1 and ending at “The End”?
Not any more.
I don’t even mourn the loss of what I thought was one of my strengths. But maybe it never was. As Henry Kissinger replied when asked if he attributed the decline of civility in America to ignorance or arrogance: “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
I never thought I’d turn to the 97-year-old Kissinger to solve my reading problem. But he may just have the answer.
“Reading books,” he wrote, “requires you to form concepts, to train your mind to relationships. A book is a large intellectual construction; you can’t hold it in mind easily or all at once. You have to struggle mentally to internalize it. Now there is no need to internalize because each fact can instantly be called up again on the computer.… People are not readers, but researchers, they float on the surface.”
I stumbled across this idea when I was reading an article by Adam Garfinkle in National Affairs called The Erosion of Deep Literacy. He believes that if we lose the capacity to read deeply, we have to be prepared to lose some of the precious things it has helped us build, like thinking deeply and acting deliberately.
I have something called Pocket which lets me save in a single click any article or link I come across online and want to view later. So on weekends, I go into my Pocket and read the more than a dozen articles I typically find there.
Because I also listen to magazine articles rather than read them (via Audm), and am ankle-deep in the sea of podcasts (try Jill Lepore’s The Last Archive), I also Pocketed a piece about Joe Rogan, which I read right after the one with Henry Kissinger.
Don’t know Joe?
Last week, he sold the rights to his podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience”, to Spotify for $100 million. The day he did, Spotify’s market cap rose by $1.7 billion in 23 minutes.
Rogan told The New York Times: “If you want to understand why podcasting is killing, you first need to appreciate the world-changing, brain-rewiring transformation in how we consume information.”
“You can’t cook or walk while reading.… Even books on tape can require too much thinking.… But a podcast doesn’t require that much thinking at all. You get captivated by the conversation.…”
These days, it’s all about captivating and not much about thinking.
Believe me, this is neither a new thought nor my own. It belongs to Neil Postman, whose book Amusing Ourselves to Death sums up our tragic decline in organized thought.
Writes Postman: “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”
And when did he say this?
Years before the Internet came for us.