December 8, 2016 by Cláudia
In a technological world, books have definitely been dethroned: they used to be one of the few forms of entertainment and now there are a thousand. Video games, TV-shows, movies and social media are more stimulating than reading: they combine different sensory stimuli and compared to them a book may seem quite dull. Reading requires concentration, knowledge and patience. It’s not immediate – stories take time to develop. And our modern world doesn’t allow a lot of free time.
However, the replacement of books altogether may be dangerous. Reading a book develops abilities that no other medium can. Regardless of how entertaining a movie can be, it has so much to focus on – light, colour, movement, perspective, sounds, music, spoken words, written words, etc. – that the spectator can only absorb what he is watching (watching a movie we are merely spectators, not participants). There is little time for reflection during the film, and the brain is too focused on translating all the signs he is being presented. Likewise, when playing a video game, it’s necessary to develop strategy and problem-solving but it is very restrictive when it comes to imagination as the range of possibilities the game can offer is finite.
Reading develops our imagination, promotes concentration and allows us to spend valuable alone time.
We are completely in control. We can stop, re-read something we didn’t fully understand, go back to confirm something or even (a habit of mine which many people condone) go further to satisfy curiosity. We can read slower when faced with a more complex passage, we can read faster when the plot gets exciting or distressing. Being able to control the rhythm fuels reflection, interpretation and imagination, it gives space for a personal experience whereas a movie or a TV-show forces us to keep paying attention to what’s happening in order to keep track of everything.
People often show signs of not being able to stand still for a second. In waiting lines, in public transports or even when there is nothing better to do, it is normal to pick up the smartphone and do something to fill in the spare time, even if the most useless waste of time activity. To me, this is a sign that there are troubles in the concentration. Not being able to be in a moment just doing nothing is quite alarming. It shows a restlessness, an unwillingness to just enjoy the present, thinking, absorbing the surroundings or simply taking a rest. Reading incites this type of concentration as it doesn’t provide too many stimuli and requires that the mind concentrates on the words and the meaning while letting the imagination roam freely. Movies and TV, on the other hand, discourage concentration because they constantly provide multiple stimuli while at the same time they repress imagination.
Note that I am not bashing technology: it has brought many amazing things. But it can never replace a book and nowadays it seems like it sometimes does (all the time I see children with cellphones or Ipads, some children say they’ve never read a book in their life and many adults confess they haven’t read a book in years).
Reading is a personal experience that can teach us, make us know ourselves better and help us understand the several nuances of the meaning of Humanity, helping us to be more compassionate as we identify with all sorts of different characters. In books, we deeply enter someone else’s conscience and we can more easily understand different situations even if we never live them. A movie does this as well, but in a much more superficial way. A book makes us dive in the mind of someone else and thus develop our empathy, our ability to understand other people’s emotion and to see things from another’s perspective.
Plus, it can help you make sense of feelings and thoughts. Writers usually have a very developed emotional intelligence and will more easily express thoughts and feelings. How many times do we read something that we always knew or felt deep down but could never grasp the right way to express it? And then when we read it, we know the author and you have the same things in mind. We understand the world and ourselves through words and to know to express a feeling or an emotion helps us to signify it and deal with it.
In a book, we are not merely a spectator – we are a character, we are part of the story. We can access the most personal thoughts of the characters and at the same time, imagine what they look like, what the surroundings look like, what we would do in that situation… It’s a magical place in which we participate and which we not only discover but help create with our imagination.
Therefore, reading will never lose its place and will always be one of the best ways to spend quality time with ourselves, while letting our imagination grow, boosting our mental abilities and learning more about who we are.