Why Bother Reading Paper Books?

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Sep 25, 2014 by British Blog

It is, after all, 2014. The internet is available, with an endless supply of words (some of them reasonably intelligent) 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Debate can be found on Twitter, Facebook and all sorts of other social media channels, and the news is only ever a click away. For fans of stories, there are e-books, or the television.

So who on earth needs to read printed books, these days? What is the point?

Firstly, it is important to establish the obvious: reading a printed book is an entirely different experience to that of reading a blog post, tweet, Facebook update, online news report or even an e-book.

 

It differs because:

  • Reading a printed book requires sustained attention. Even those who read in short bursts, every day, have to keep doing that for a considerable period to finish a whole book. In contrast, most online material is designed to be read quickly. Paragraphs and articles are short, messages concise. Online, brevity sells.
  • Reading a printed book means that you have to let the story unfold. This is because in printed books, the unfolding of the story is the point.
  • E-books, with their links and comments and clicks through to supporting material, are totally unlike printed books. The very act of reading e-books brings to mind the world of the internet. E-books contain (or are a click away from) distractions, whereas printed works demand the reader's sole attention.

 

Printed books offer advantages that a screen simply cannot. These include:

  • The unfolding of the narrative (which is the key difference between reading books and consuming online media) actually changes the brain. Psychologists at Washington University scanned the brains of people reading and discovered that readers "mentally simulate" episodes in the narrative, in other words reading creates new neural pathways in the brain. Thus reading really can change the way that people perceive the world: which begs the question, should this affect what readers decide to read?
  • The act of reading helps to hone the skills required for a full life: critical skills, empathy, attention, creativity, analytical skills, reflection and understanding.
  • In recognising, identifying with and exploring the inner lives of characters, readers can explore and understand themselves a little better.
  • Books demand that the reader 'switch off' from the constant chatter of the online world, at least for a while. This in itself can often be beneficial.

 

Unfortunately, sales of printed books have been dropping in recent years, perhaps because the distractions of the internet and the 24/7 connected world have made books seem irrelevant to many people. Yet books are far more than just another means of passing spare time - as has been shown, they can genuinely alter the human brain.

The benefits of reading real books are profound and life changing, and the world will surely suffer if the population has less empathy, less creativity, less understanding and less insight than it does now. So perhaps a trip to the bookshop is in order - for everybody?