OPINION: Why I read and you should, too

Mr. Johann Thorgeirsson.

Reading is gradually going out of fashion. This is nothing new, it has been happening since the invention of the radio.

Before that, for thousands of years, writing and reading was not public pastimes. 

We can even say that for most of the human existence on earth, there was no reading since writing had not been invented.  

After about 25,000 years from the time we stood upright, depending on how you count, or close to 3,350 BC, some bureaucrat in Mesopotamia with the overwhelming pressure of the job got the idea of using marks in a clay tablet to register inventory of the city.

How many camels brought how much corn for the city consumption?

His supervisors found this sufficiently useful to allow him to develop his idea into a system. 

It’s not sure if the Egyptians got the idea from Mesopotamia, not unlikely since the distance is not large, but they invented their own system approximately 150 years later.

Then the process repeated itself in China a few years later.  It also occurred in Meso-America.

Now we can say with a fair amount of certainty that the writing system has been developed independently four times at different places around the world. 

Around each of these systems rose a hierarchy of bureaucrats, writing down information and reading it back at later times. 

These new systems were always rather localized since distribution and transportation of the information gathered was not easy. 

When writing was made on clay tablets, they were heavy and bulky, requiring big space for storage and once the clay was dry, there was no room for corrections. 

In the case of more convenient writing material, such as skin or papyrus, they were either very expensive, as the skin – to write a book a big heard of cows must be sacrificed, or in the case of papyrus, it was too sensitive to the elements, it molded easy and became illegible. 

Paper was finally invented about AD 100, in China, and slowly spread to other civilizations. It is said that the need is the mother of all inventions, therefore it’s no surprise that paper was invented in China, the biggest bureaucracy of the time. 

The paper did not change the fact that if any duplicate was needed, a scribe had to be found to write down a copy by the hand, of the desired document.

However, it was a German goldsmith and inventor who brought it together about 1450 in Mainz, Germany.

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and in a heartbeat price of written material came crashing down.

Although the elite along with the church tried to monopolize this new invention and control what it was being used for, the Renascence, commencing shortly thereafter, changed all that. 

All of a sudden anyone was able to write anything and distribute it, as long as he had an audience. 

Because of Guttenberg, we can say humans read voraciously for a short period of time, from about the middle of the 17th century until the middle of the 19th century, or for approximately 200  years.

However, during this time our advances in science, medicine, engineering and other fields were enormous. 

During this short period, we saw more discoveries, both good and bad, than during all history of mankind combined.

We greatly improved our methods of killing each other and practiced constantly using these new methods.

Still, overall, we were able to improve our average standard of living significantly and extend our average lifespan to almost double what it was prior to this period.

Almost immediately after Gutenberg’s invention, humans started undermining it. 

Not consciously, but as they say, “the road to hell is laid by good intentions”. 

First, it was the radio, invented in 1890; it quickly became our favorite pastime. 

Suddenly peace and quiet were gone forever and radios were blaring everywhere, even though no one was listening. 

The newspapers and books were changed out for news on the radio and other broadcasted material. 

At first, no change was felt, but over time we saw fewer newspapers and it became increasingly difficult to start a newspaper. 

The radio wasn’t enough, in 1927 the TV was invented and the situation became more serious.

Then, it was the computer in 1974, the personal computer (PC).

It was all downhill from there.  Computer games, social media and not to be left behind, reality TV. 

Books have tried to keep up with the smut with the Fifty Shades, to no avail. 

“And?” You ask, “this is progress. We do not have time to read anymore, we need information rapidly; concise pieces of information that help us through our day and life. 

We can’t spend hours upon hours sifting through tons of printed material every day, without any certainty we will find what we are looking for.”

Well, if you spend time playing computer games, a good part of your waking hours on social media and you read The Fifty Shades, you surely have time to read something constructive. 

The fact is, reading has been the single biggest contributor to human advancement in history.

In addition to that, reading, on a personal level, provides significant benefits we usually do not contemplate at all. 

First, reading is entertainment. We read to entertain ourselves.

Whatever our interests are, we can find books matching them. While reading, our brain is active, we must see the story in our mind, form the characters and live the storyline.

While this is happening, our brain is being stimulated, new connections are being formed and we passively learn.

Second, we actively learn. We look for information and we purposefully read whether it is to acquire new knowledge, to confirm and validate the information we already have, or to build on an existing base of knowledge.

This is the way reading has mostly been used since writing was invented.

Third, reading is a way of meditation.

As a yoga practitioner focuses his attention inwardly to train his mind, a reader focuses his attention outwardly onto the material being read.

It is not uncommon that people reading lose track of time (use an alarm to avoid problems like that), and while reading find solutions to problems even though unrelated to the material being read.

Fourth, and the most important benefit of reading is stimulating thinking.

There is no coincidence the military prefers visual training, video for example. 

The military does not like the soldier to think too much. The soldier must obey instructions. Don’t think, just do.

Otherwise, if all soldiers would be thinking about why they are killing innocent people all the time, there wouldn’t be anyone available to do the job.

Philosophy and the military are not compatible.

I mainly read for benefits two, three, and four, and mostly I read Philosophy, History, and Politics (including religion). 

I read history to understand the road we used to get where we are, politics to understand why our forefathers and current politicians chose this road, and which road they are trying to take for the future, and finally, I read philosophy to make sense of it all, and to understand if the road we are on is the best alternative.

Why you read is not important but for you. You only have to keep in mind the four benefits reading gives you and all that reading has given humanity.

Remember that reading is very young when compared to our existence and we should not treat it like something insignificant we can get by without.

Read with purpose. What that purpose is, is up to you.

Read consciously, read, knowing the benefits you are reaping, whether it is for entertainment, active knowledge, or meditation.

And above all, read consistently. Every day, take time to read, even though it is for a few minutes only. 

There are ample opportunities to read.

Personally, I have a book with me wherever I go. If I have to be waiting for someone, I read. 

If I have to stand in line, I read. Before going to bed, after summing up my day, I read. 

You can find your own moments for reading but do it. 

Reading, if done every day, becomes a habit, a habit that does not have to cost you much and is not bad for your health or the environment.

Good reading!

YOU CAN ALSO READ: RESEARCH PAPER: Is your education educating you?

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Mr. Thorgeirsson, a Columnist with The scholar Media Africa is based in Puerto Rico, USA. He is a coach in Personal Finance, with an MBA in Finance and Marketing from Inter Americana University, Puerto Rico. His contact: fflpr2019@gmail.com


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