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Is Reading a Lost Art?

A big shift may be occurring in the way we gather and process information, but we must summon the discipline to slow down enough to focus on what’s important.
By Dave Boehi


The article by David L. Ulin of the Los Angeles Times begins with a familiar complaint: “Sometime late last year—I don't remember when, exactly—I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read.”

I’ve read this lament fairly often over the last year. In The Atlantic Monthly, Nicholas Carr wrote:

Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

Ulin and Carr are part of a growing number of writers, researchers, and thinkers who are looking at our Google/Facebook/Twitter culture and asking some important questions like, “How is this affecting us?” and “Is all this good for us?” While the internet offers many wonderful benefits to our lives, it’s important to consider how our preoccupation with media, the web, and social media is changing the way we interact and communicate and even think.

As a writer and editor, I’ve been particularly interested in how our reading habits are changing. It seems as if a big shift may be occurring in the way we gather and process information.

In one sense, this is just the latest twist in a story that has been growing for nearly a century. It seems that each new media invention—movies, radio, television, VCRs and DVD players, the internet—inevitably affects the way people read and reduces the time they devote to it. What feels different about recent trends is that the web is still so new, and it is evolving so quickly that few people are stepping back to look at how it is changing us.

In his Los Angeles Times article, “The Lost Art of Reading,” Ulin says: 

Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves … In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know.

At the end Ulin concludes that reading is “harder than it used to be, but still, I read.” Then I noticed the italicized biographical information on the next line: “Ulin is book editor of The Times.”

This guy reviews books for a living, and he still finds it difficult to force himself to be quiet long enough to read them? If he has trouble, what does that mean for the rest of us?

I suspect we are becoming a society of people who rarely allow ourselves to slow down enough to think and contemplate. It’s difficult to spend time reading a book—or, more important, reading God’s Word—when Facebook and YouTube and last night’s episode of Lost are calling for your attention. It requires a strong will to force yourself to read something longer than a few hundred words. And it requires discipline to study and apply the Scriptures, to talk with God. I suspect that, the more time we spend on the internet and with other entertainment media, the more difficult it will be to summon the will and discipline to slow down and focus on what’s really important.

It could be that one of the most important ways a husband and wife can encourage each other in marriage is in how they spend their free time. A few possibilities:

  • Encourage each other to read a book each month. Find books you enjoy reading, and find books that challenge you in your walk with Christ. Find a time when you can both read (for my wife, Merry, and me, that time is at night before we go to bed).
  • Encourage each other to use “drive time” to and from work to listen to audio books. 
  • Encourage each other to carve out several times each week to spend with God. 
  • Encourage each other by reading a couple’s devotional together. FamilyLife offers two popular devotionals by Dennis and Barbara Rainey: Moments Together for Couples and Moments with You.

If the internet has been taking up more and more of your time in recent years, you will need to cut back on web time in order to create reading time. But I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

 

Copyright © 2009 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.



Meet the Author: Dave Boehi

Dave Boehi is a senior editor at FamilyLife. He has written one book (I Still Do), coauthored the Preparing for Marriage workbook, edited dozens of books and Bible studies, and produces the FamilyLife e-newsletter Help & Hope. Dave and his wife, Merry, live in Little Rock, Arkansas, and have two married daughters.

 

 

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