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.