Recently, I found a sheet of paper in an old file cabinet when I was cleaning. On it was a list of books I read in 1999. This was before children when I was meticulous enough to keep track of things like that. Without giving numbers let’s just say that the list was probably five times the length I might accumulate this year, based on my current pace – And yet I still love to read!
Or so I say…
I do believe there’s something to be said for a great story. But these days, those stories are more often found under the auspices of theater, television, or YouTube videos. Wherever you look, more and more information is being transmitted via video. And I have to confess to breathing a sigh of relief when I open a post to find a three minute video rather than a 1,000 words. It’s so much easier to watch than to read! That said, even when we find a topic interesting enough to warrant actually reading an article, studies show that we tend to skim headlines and highlights rather than read word for word. Apparently we’re more interested in getting the main idea than grasping the details.
Our ability to read with any semblance of focus and comprehension has deteriorated significantly with the advent of smart technology. One need only review standardized test scores to understand the consequences to our children’s educations.
I recently saw a headline from The Washington Post that read SAT Reading Scores Drop to Lowest point in Four Decades. ACT Scores have dropped as well, particularly in the Reading and English sections. While schools have increased the time and resources spent in the areas of Science and Math, a focused effort on reading skills – something arguably necessary for a basic standard of living – has been lacking. But we can’t entirely blame the schools. After all, reading is a skill honed by practice. Who’s practicing anymore?
I don’t know about your teens, but mine used to read all the time – right up until they had access to iPods, iPads and iPhones. I am embarrassed to admit what little time any of them has recently spent delving into books that weren’t required reading.
It was bad enough when television was the distraction. But now it’s like we are in a candy store of stimulation 24-hours-a-day. Wherever we turn, there is something to watch. In this environment, it can be difficult to pull our eyes away from all the glitter and glitz for a pastime that requires anything resembling effort.
Speaking for myself, I’ll be the first to admit that my phone has seriously cramped my reading time. As a mother my reading has always been done in five to ten minute increments. But you can’t get more convenient than a smart phone to kill time in small increments. So much for reading. No matter where I am, if I’m looking for a little intellectual stimulation, my phone is all I need. In a split second I can check unread email, pop into my FB feed or Twitter, my news app, Pinterest – there are unlimited things one can find to do on a little phone in the brief span of time it takes to wait in line at the grocery store.
While I’ve never had a lot of focused time to devote to reading, those small increments add up. In the past, busy or not, I could usually get through at least a book or two every month. As I think about all the accumulated moments I spend on my various social media feeds these days I am sick at all the time I’ve wasted. Reading a good book is a calming and relaxing experience that builds the reader both intellectually and spiritually. Reading about current events tends to build nothing but anxiety.
Yes, FB might keep me informed about how to keep my kids from becoming bullies or on the five things I should be doing every day as a Catholic (two posts I glanced through today), but Father Lovasik’s Hidden Power of Kindness has had a much greater impact. And Intro to the Devout Life resonated with more profound meaning. Yes, there are blogs I like to follow – and of course, I write for two of them – but truth be told, the majority of my time on social media is spent scrolling through headlines. All in all, much of it has been a mindless waste of time.
It will be difficult, but I am going to challenge myself to set my phone aside in favor of reacquainting myself with a good habit. Reading.
Summer is coming. Perhaps you’d like to join me in this endeavor? Let’s see what we can do between now and August – when all the fall activities begin. That gives us about 100 days to focus on reading and 100 days to put social media on the back burner. Maybe not altogether, but why not place it further down the priority list?
There is no question this will be a sacrifice. My phone has become like an extra appendage. I can only imagine how difficult it will be to break the habit of turning to it every time I have a minute to spare. But I’m going to give it a shot! How about you? Come on! Let’s dispense with making our phones a primary source of entertainment in favor of something better (Or perhaps for you the problem is TV or a computer?).
Mark your calendars for Monday, August 1, 2016 – let’s meet here on that date and chat about what we’ve read and whether we’ve made a change for the better!