Mark Zuckerberg thinks he should read more books (https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10101828640656261) and (http://www.wired.com/2015/01/mark-zuckerberg-book-club/) and he has made that his New Year’s Resolution for 2015- he will read a new book every two weeks. And I have to admit, after a day of facing the internet, social media, my smartphone, my office phone, and every other iteration of screen imaginable, I’m pretty pro-books at the end of the day too.
But here’s the thing, Zuckerberg said, “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.”
And this on its own is an interesting statement from the man who invented a whole new platform for human engagement with the universe, usually in a terse, poorly composed, un-reviewed, multi-media, heavily internet-influenced, referential and visually distracting manner. For Zuck to acknowledge that internet literacy, being on top of the latest instagrams, status updates, and tweet-reading alone don’t help one to necessarily broaden and deepen their own intellect- well, it’s kind of a big deal. It’s a bit of a line in the sand. And I like it.
However, and I find interestingly, Zuck didn’t specify HOW he will be ingesting the books. Will he be reading them via a variety of online/downloadable media, or the old fashioned paper format way? There is a difference. And the difference matters. And we are only just beginning to scrape the surface of looking at how the interface of screens impacts our retention, our emotion, our engagement with the content we are reading.
As the sister of a man who manages a very popular little independent bookstore in San Francisco (whoop whoop Books Inc. on Chestnut Street!), I’d like to think that we are all reading more, but lately I feel more compelled to pose the question of whether what really matters is not THAT we are reading more, but WHAT we are reading and HOW we are reading it. See this study if you want to learn more about this type of research: http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/09/10/younger-americans-and-public-libraries/
And the same apparently is being implied when it comes to taking notes and studying them- early studies and research indicate that doing it “ye olde fashioned way” with pen and paper and hand helps us to retain more of the content than the act of typing does.
But then we come to this issue of more and intellectually superiority and canonization. Stay with me here. By canonization, I am not intending any religious interpretation of the word. I’m merely intending to bring up the fact that some of us get to claim we are smarter and have better taste and we get to claim what is worth reading and what is not. And, well, that gets pretty tricky.
The other night I saw the film “Birdman.” Highly recommend it. So weird and different and interesting. And boy I love Michael Keaton. Always have. Glad to see him back. Anyhow, there’s this great scene in the film where Keaton’s character gets in the face of this legendary, reputedly indestructible and all-powerful theater critic and they have this outstanding dialogue in a bar about whether she gets to judge him for being a former movie star and trying to break into theater. I loved it because it touched on the central hatred that anyone in art or creative work has about critics, whose sole job it is to judge them and then publish that judgment for others to use to, in exchange, judge them. That scene really hit me. And Keaton has this one incredible line that really caps off the whole interchange between them- where he tells the critic, “None of it costs you anything. You risk nothing.” We love to hate critics because this is what they do. They impose their allegedly more developed, informed and well-rounded opinions upon us of what is good, what is worthwhile, what is quality without putting really any skin in the game. There’s a convenient little rebuttle to that here in the Chicago Tribune, but in reality, that’s a pretty hard argument to argue with.
What’s my point? My point, I think, is that criticizing and judging others for their creative choices and how they choose to spend their time is a waste of time. I will always be glad to know that people are reading, including Zuck, no matter what they choose to read and how they choose to read it. I want people to consume the creative works of others. I want people to listen to music, even if I don’t enjoy what they’re listening to. I want people to go to the theater, even if I hate the play. I want people to go to the ballet, even though it bores me to tears. And I want them to extend the same courtesy to me.
Frankly I am flabbergasted that “the average American, in 2013 read one book a month, according to the Pew Research Center.” Seriously, think about that! 12 books in a year? Sounds like an overestimation for most people I know, unless somehow magazines, comic books, cereal boxes, and/or poems are counting as books these days.
Anyhow, I hope your 2015 is off to a great start, even if it’s not off to as great a start as Zuck’s. Let’s all plan to create, consume, and converse more this year.