Friday, September 16th, 2011...12:01 am

Books are a Pain

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Recently I realized something about myself.  I don’t like to read books – at least not as much as I used to, and definitely not in the ways that I used to.

When I was growing up, I really enjoyed reading books.  As a young boy I usually read for at least an hour before bed each night.  Nowadays, I find it hard to get through many non-fiction books and I find myself wishing that the book would “get to the point.”

So, what changed?  The Internet.

I often feel privileged to have been born when I was.  I feel like I had a good foundation in the pre-internet era, but I was still young enough to be heavily influenced when the internet really started to bloom.  In my house, we didn’t get the internet until I was in grade 10 (1996) and by then I was really starting to feel left out.  I can recall a time in grade 9 when a classmate of mine was bragging about how fast it was to surf the web with a 28.8 kbps modem; “that he could never go back to 14.4!”

Back then, there was no question that books were better for reading.  You could carry them around, you could write on them, you could easily share them, and you could admire them on your shelf.  By contrast, reading on a computer screen was the opposite in every way.  But a lot has changed since then.  Now I find that my hand cramps up holding a book between my fingers; I find that the reading light by my bed casts an annoying shadow on the pages of a book; I find that the text in a book is smaller than I would like it to be.  Books are more annoying to me than using a computing device.

The reality is that I probably read more now than I ever have in my life – I’m just not reading books.  Instead, I’m reading tweets, blogs, and websites that are filled with an abundance of ideas to stimulate my brain.  And, I know I’m not alone.

High speed internet and web 2.0 have promoted an ideas explosion.  If you’re hungry for ideas (and I am), the web often pulls you in far better than a book.  The web provides ideas instant gratification.  It’s no wonder I want books to “get to the point.”

At first blush, ideas instant gratification may sound like a bad thing – like drive-through fast food – but I don’t think it is.  These ideas have transformed my teaching and, in many ways, my life.  For example, these TED talks alone have had a huge impact on my classroom:

Sir Ken Robinson, Dan MeyerDaniel PinkCharles LeadbeaterSir Ken again, Clay Shirky, Sugata Mitra, Chris Anderson, Tom Wujec, Diana Laufenberg, and many, many others.

In the 3 hours it would take me to watch all of the videos listed above, I might be able to finish one short book.

Now, I recognize many people might say that ideas instant gratification can have a down side.  They might suggest that I’m losing my attention span, or that I am missing the opportunity to explore the depth and nuance of a topic.  But I don’t think so.  I think the internet has just raised my level of expectation for a books because we are surrounded by an abundance of compelling ideas.  If an author wants me to use 5-10 hours of my life reading their book, the ideas need to be intriguing, the text needs to be well written, and the argument needs to be very thoughtfully crafted – otherwise I have to move on.

Final thought:  My students have never known a world without the internet.  What do they think when they see a book?

Image credit:  pasukaru76



2 Comments

  • I’m inclined to ask what your favourite book is… it must be good according to your high expectations. Do share :)

  •   dianaaphillips
    October 10th, 2011 at 3:28 pm    Reply

    I must admit that I have similar feelings about books, today. However, I find that I read more not less. I have compartmentalized my reading to relaxation reading (with book, Kindle) and curious fun ( internet). Oftentimes I deepen my interest using the net and use new found interest to find a book to read during my down time. It’s hard for me to relax reading on the computer.

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