How We Read Today

11th January 2015

Mark Zuckerberg hit the news this week with his New Year’s Resolution. As he said – “My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week – with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies”

This is looking like a very positive push for reading and even better news for Book Clubs – with 123,000 likes and counting , Zuck could have started the worlds biggest ever book club

He seems up for it as well – “I’m excited for my reading challenge. I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books”

Good for him – but this sounds like a real challenge to me . Reading 25 seriously weighty and intellectual tomes in a year – whilst also running Facebook, maintaining personal relationships , eating , sleeping and keeping up to speed with all the other commitments that make up modern life, would be beyond many of us.

This apparent love of longer content , is perhaps surprising coming from a man who via Facebook , has helped in encouraging pithier communications between people. Why should we bother emailing or even writing letters, when we can Facebook ( or indeed text , tweet, snapchat or instagram )

And will he be reading real books or using some digital device – a Kindle perhaps?

The reason I ask this last question is that when it comes to the speed of reading and digestion of data, ‘how’ you consume your literature makes a big difference.
Here’s an example – a business colleague I had lunch with recently is doing a post graduate Masters at a London University. We were discussing good books to read and she showed me the very extensive bibliography from her thesis. ‘Did you read all of these?’ I asked. ‘Yes’ she said, ‘well at least the key bits’ . She pointed out that with a Kindle you can quickly see all the key sections, as highlighted by previous readers . In essence you can get other people to do your reading for you.

Now there is a school of thought – first mentioned to me by an old agency boss of mine, that it is only worth reading the first two or three chapters of a business book, as the succeeding chapters tend to be fluffed out with re-hashed content that has already been covered. But reading only the highlighted sections of a book seems to go one better – if enough (smart) people read a book before me then even I could manage 25 books a year – maybe even more…
However on a more serious note, the danger here is that we are assuming that if something is important to other readers then it will also be important to us. This may be true in some cases but is very unlikely to be true in in all.

And of course, this is not ‘reading’ as we used to know it. A recent piece by Casey Newton, in The Verge looked at the future of reading… it is being designed by Amazon –

“Over the years, Amazon has stuffed its e-readers with features making them easier to read, like embedded dictionaries and translators; it’s added a social network; it’s even introduced a feature that seamlessly turns text into audio and back at our convenience. Books are vessels for transmitting ideas, and today the vessels have ideas of their own own: about what we should read, and how we should read it……A feature called X-Ray, for example, stores a books’ most common characters, locations, and ideas……The result is a book that can translate itself; can explain itself – who its characters are, its themes, and which ideas are most important ”

Also from Casey Newton, I think this is very poignant – “Between the web and social media, I read more than I ever have – and yet I read fewer books than ever. Reading over all my notes about the future of reading, I see I have reported it out of hope that books will evolve to repair what other technologies have started to break: my ability to concentrate over hundreds of pages.”

Technology has changed the way we read, digest information and even how we decide which bits of content are of value to us

As traditional book sales continue to decline, increasingly we will not sit down and read a book cover to cover, be it paper and ink, or even in digital format – as we rely more and more on the assistance of digital guides and cheats.
I even doubt that Zuck is reading his books ‘cover to cover’ and if he isn’t, I’d certainly like to see the highlighted sections on his Kindle’……