Have you forgotten how to read books?

learning how to read books

We need to relearn how to read books in the digital age. Online reading is a different experience than physical print.

For one, the digital experience is stickier because of its dopamine-hitting bells and whistles. We are constantly shifting between articles, apps, and text messages, hijacked by the latest gaze of entertainment. It’s the equivalent of flipping TV channels.

Writes Canadian author and journalist Michael Harris:

“Online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.”

Since physical books lack the immediate stimuli, reading requires an entirely different mindset. It enforces focus and patience. Said Harris: “I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me – by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.”

Screens are for short-term readers; book heads play the long-game. The latter know that great moments in novels are as scarce a goal in a soccer game, but they can also be more exciting.

Books test our attentiveness while creating anticipation. Perhaps they are the only escape we have left from our distracted world. Constricted to one tangible novel of a screen, a paperback can help recalibrate the imagination and slow down time.


27 thoughts on “Have you forgotten how to read books?”

  1. I’m one of those few people who absolutely refuse to switch to e-readers. I love the feel and smell of books. And staring at screens for too long….headache!

  2. I am old school, and I can only read physical book. I love the feeling to hold the book in my hands.

    1. Right there with you, the sound of flipping pages and the occasional fresh smell of paper.

  3. I love to read. I read every night. I have the Kindle Voyage that I use for reading. I made the switch many years ago because it’s cheaper to get the books and more convenient to have something much smaller to fit in my purse. But I specifically chose one that is only a reader, not a tablet, for this reason. I am not distracted when I am reading since it is only meant for reading a book.

    1. Indeed, there’s beauty in the Kindle’s light tech. Reading on the iPhone is convenient but a distraction disaster.

  4. Physical books rule! Off topic kinda, im obsessed with your opening shot with the action hair whip and books flying! Wish that was me!

  5. I’m an avid reader. I’ve always read for two reasons: 1) education 2) enjoyment. If I’m reading for education I’m hoping to get the most possible out of what I’m reading. If I’m reading for enjoyment, then I’m only concerned with whether or not I’m enjoying what I’m reading.

  6. Interesting how the digital book gives you the dopamine hit that a physical book does not. I, however, get distracted by social media, email and all the pop ups and notifications when reading on a device. I still love curling up on the couch with a glass of wine and a good (physical) book!

  7. I have to admit… I love to Online Read… Especially on my Iphone. Its keeps it all in one place for me and holds my place… haha. (first world problems right?)
    But I do love to actually buy the book if I love it and want it for my collection.

  8. Oh my goodness, I love this. That quote is soooo right. We’re always looking for the fast take away now. I love reading novels. It’s something Im doing much more of this year.

    1. Smells, sounds, plus the feeling of control and pace. It’s a better overall experience although the Kindle is a tech light option since its use is constricted — much better than reading on the phone!

  9. I prefer to read real books but I do love the convenience of my kindle where I can take all my favs with me without being weighted down. I am guilty of scrolling to the most useful facts though and I should really be more patient

  10. I remember reading an article in TIME talking about how computers are changing the ways we are reading. I agree that screen reading and book reading are two different things. And I think we should keep them separate. Although if you can read the books on kindles and such, more power to you.

  11. Very well stated! There is most certainly a difference between reading books electronically vs. the traditional print. When I read a book I can get lost in it as those pages open, the rest of the world is closed off. Compare that to reading electronically. I have to laugh at the irony. As I was reading your wonderfully written post, there was an advertisement for Book Baby in the middle of it. Consequently, I am multi tasking as I write this reply. It’s amazing how technology doesn’t always make things easier, but harder, taking up more of our time rather than helping give us more.

    1. Thanks Jonathan, tech is indeed a time-suck! BTW, apologies for the disruptive ad. I started a Patreon subscription for fans with the hope that with enough funding, I can get rid of them: patreon.com/wellsbaum

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