Since the birth of the smartphone in 2000, I’ve noticed how books have slowly taken second fiddle to mobile devices. Over 77% of Americans own smart phones, so it's without question that most of us gravitate towards the convenience of reading on a screen. Many of us readers rely on the ease of accessing millions of books on Kindles, Nooks, mobile phones, and other handheld electronic gadgets. We can easily transcend into fictional and nonfictional realms of our choice anywhere and everywhere. Some of us might even admit that our reading is limited to glancing over the latest news headlines, scrolling through Facebook status updates, skimming Instagram captions, or browsing through 140-character blurbs on Twitter.
Fortune reports that more than 90% of individuals aged 18-49 read solely from a mobile device.
In addition, Fortune found that nearly 65% of all people read primarily from a mobile device, which is up from 22% in 2013. That number goes up as age decreases with more than 90% of individuals aged 18-49 reading solely from a mobile device. Today’s youth dubbed “screenagers” read almost entirely from personal devices.
It’s easy to understand how books have been cast aside. Admittedly, books can be bulky, they depreciate quickly, and they do not offer multiple layers of engagement like smart phones do. However, books have been the literary medium of choice for hundreds of years, ever since Gutenberg so wonderfully bestowed the printing press upon us in 1440. Smart phones and personal mobile devices have only been for a tiny fraction of that time - the first one appeared less than 20 years ago.
Perhaps we shouldn’t so quickly forsake books since they’ve seen us through generation after generation, taking us into the 21st century relatively successfully. Books have been loyal companions, calm supporters of knowledge, promoters of creativity, and chroniclers of history. Books are here when we need them, but if we don’t, they rest quietly and considerately in their designated places, waiting patiently to open up new pathways in our minds.
In contrast, mobile devices seem to constantly beckon us with their alluring notifications. Their hypnotic siren call is hard to ignore, and it's easy to rationalize a choice to reach for a phone over a book. I think it's time to compile some practical reasons why we should ignore the seduction of our phones and revisit the rectangular objects currently gathering dust on our nightstands.
Without further ado, here are eight reasons why we should be reading books instead of spending time on our mobile devices:
1. Reading books improves the brain, providing mental stimulation shown to prevent brain diseases. The increased brain activity that reading books provides keeps our minds sharp and agile, opening up new neural pathways and strengthening existing ones. In contrast, it takes very little work to scroll a news feed or watch television where the scenes unfold before us automatically with minimal mental exercise on our part. The more we exercise our minds, the stronger we become!
2. It takes some effort to keep track of plots, characters, themes, and points of view in fiction and nonfiction. The work we do by reading a text can enhance our memory and critical thinking skills. In addition, while we are reading, we have the option to stop and think about what we’ve read, allowing for consideration, comprehension, and insight. This is different from watching a film or a TV-show, where we can’t always press pause to think about what we’ve encountered so far.
3. Everyone is always complaining of being stressed out. Well, sometimes we forget, but we really do have the choice to be relaxed instead. Reading is actually proven to reduce stress. Even reading for a period of only six minutes can take away more than 2/3 of our stress, which is more than taking a walk in nature, enjoying a cup of decaf tea, or playing video games.
4. Reading can improve imagination and creativity. While we read, our minds are responsible for creating corresponding images. As stated in #1 and #2, it takes a lot more brain power to read a text than to passively observe images on a screen. The extra energy used to create images from books strengthens our minds, making our brains stronger and more likely to resist diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. All of this can make us more effective thinkers and more interesting, creative, and imaginative people.
5. Reading books can mold us into kinder people. When we read works of fiction or memoir, our empathy for others increases. By considering different points of view, and putting ourselves in other’s shoes, we are forced to think of people other than ourselves. This is so important for people at any stage of life, but it is especially important for children, since as children we see ourselves as the centers of our own private universes. Books can get us to go beyond our private concerns and help us to consider others.
6. Of course, it goes without saying that reading books can help us build our vocabulary and improve our writing skills thereby refining our communication skills so that we have a better chance at surviving and thriving in any society.
7. Books provide us with the choice to practice a sustained activity without constant notifications and the ever-present option to surf the web, check the social media channels, or engage in text messaging. While reading a book, we can sequester ourselves from the outside world and devote our full attention to one thing, which increases our faculties of concentration and focus. One of the best things about books is that they can be accessed without any of the detrimental side effects of the digital world. When we read from a book, we are less prone to the anxiety that accompanies clicking around on personal devices.
8. Choosing to read a book instead of diving into the never-ending world of our smart phones before we go to bed can help us sleep better. If we read a book instead of using a personal electronic device before bed, our brains (actually, our pineal glands) will be better able to secrete melatonin, a hormone essential for sleep. Melatonin is actually blocked by the photons emitted by screens, so when we use our phones before bed, we don't feel tired; instead, we feel activated and awake. Our quality of sleep can be improved when we choose to do something else other than reach for our phones.
As a former English teacher, this topic has always been near and dear to my heart. And, if you are a former student of mine, then you probably remember me going on and on about the importance of books and the detrimental effects of mobile devices and tablets when they are not used for the right purposes.
Regardless of your knowledge of this subject or your affiliation to me, I'd love to know what you think about books vs. mobile devices! And, I'd love to hear what YOU are reading right now. Feel free to leave a comment below with your opinions and literary recommendations.
Here some of MY favorites from the recent years, followed by a list of what I'm planning to reading in the next months. All the titles are linked to their descriptions. And, you may notice, I tend to pursue anti-personal technology related titles.
Ali's Shortlist of Nonfiction:
- The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
- Reclaiming Conversation: Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
- Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
- Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
Ali's Shortlist of Fiction:
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tarrt
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
To Read in 2018:
- Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
- A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
- Minimalism for Families: Practical Minimalist Living Strategies to Simplify Your Home and Life by Zoë Kim
- The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J Levitin
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