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  • Writer's pictureSubha

Balancing the digital deluge with the delight of reading

Updated: Apr 22

"When we buy books, we believe we're buying the time to read them."

You know that feeling – the one where your shelves are already groaning under the weight of a tall stack of unread books, yet you can't resist the magnetic pull of a bookstore. (Public Service Announcement for Bangaloreans - avoid Church St unless you have nerves of steel!)

You promise yourself just a quick browse, a harmless peek at the latest John Grisham or Taylor Jenkins Reid or Colleen Hoover or the new behavioural science masterpiece that is going to finally teach you how to conquer time or delegate better or make money doing less and not more. Human willpower is not strong enough for this.

So, you emerge with a new addition to your ever-growing collection. The true conundrum lies in the "when." When will you actually read these books? You've got your hands on a treasure trove of knowledge and imagination, yet they gather dust as life's commitments pile up. The eternal dilemma of book lovers – a stack of aspirations, dreams, and knowledge waiting patiently for their moment.

How do we unearth the insights hidden within the vast world of the written word in the age of relentless distraction by digital content?

The opening quote, spoken by a 19th-century philosopher, resonates deeply in an age where we find ourselves surrounded by a barrage of digital content. From the moment we wake up, we encounter a virtual smorgasbord of alerts, articles, videos, tweets, social media posts, podcasts, and endless streams of information. Yes, the digital age has ushered in incredible opportunities for learning, entertainment, and connection. However, the constant temptation to consume more is often at the cost of losing the precious art of deep reading or at least some long-form writing. And the only thing we gain is guilt.

The Digital Deluge

We spend hours in the digital world, engaging with everything from memes to scholarly articles. And all the while, traditional books stare back at us from our shelves, waiting to be read. What exactly is the problem? Can’t we just move on and admit books are passè?

The statistics are staggering. According to the Pew Research Center, in the United States alone, more than a quarter of adults say they haven't read a book in whole or in part in the past year. Yet, data from 10 different countries shows that a majority of people still prefer print books over e-books. 42.5% of respondents purchased at least one print book in 2020—that's significantly more than the 15.5% who'd bought at least one e-book.

The digital blackhole is a problem because:

  • perhaps it leaves us feeling guilty about abandoning such an easy source of joy, literally within hand’s reach

  • It gives us that omnipresent feeling of FOMO. What am I missing out from these amazing storytellers?

  • Everyone else in the room seems to be talking about the latest or best in my field. What are they smoking (reading!)?

We want to know more, consume more, and are woefully aware that we will get to it only after the next (I promise, the last) Insta reel.

The Magic of Books:

Books do offer something magical. The printed word has a unique power to transport you to different times, places, and perspectives.

The act of deep reading is a profound exercise for the human brain. As Maryanne Wolf, the neuroscientist and author of "Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World", explains, deep reading cultivates critical thinking, empathy, and a deeper understanding of complex subjects. Books allow you to linger in contemplation, to savour sentences, and to form your understanding at your own pace. I have personally been consuming a lot more audio content, and the difference in learning, retention, and mental exploration is palpable. For many, video is overtaking all other forms of content consumption.

Blending Digital and Print:

So, how can we balance our digital lives with the joy of reading books? It begins with acknowledging that both have a place in our lives.

One strategy is to embrace "micro-reading." Take advantage of those snippets of time when you would normally skim the latest tweets or browse online articles. You can carry a digital book with you, using apps like Kindle, and read a few pages during your morning commute or lunch break.

Digital tools can also be allies in your quest for more profound reading. Numerous apps and platforms offer virtual book clubs, reading challenges, and recommendations based on your interests.

Setting Reading Goals:

Setting achievable reading goals can help you rediscover the joy of reading. Whether it's a book a month, a chapter a day, or simply dedicating more time each evening to reading, small goals can lead to significant changes.

Social reading challenges, like the Goodreads Reading Challenge, provide a supportive online community and a sense of accomplishment as you track your progress throughout the year.

Complementing to Dig Deeper

Books don't exist in isolation. They complement other forms of learning and entertainment. Consider how reading a book can enhance your understanding of a topic introduced through a podcast or documentary. As you read a historical novel, it might pique your interest in a particular era, prompting you to explore more on the subject through digital resources.

Authors today are active across various online platforms. If you're keen to dive into their work but struggle to find the time or focus to read a full book, there are alternative routes to explore their insights.

Take, for instance, Adam Grant‘s latest book, "Hidden Potential." If you admire Grant's work and believe it's relevant to your role as a people leader yet find it challenging to set aside time for reading, you're not alone. The digital age has gifted us a wealth of options to grasp the essence of these books without committing to the full journey.

1. Podcast Episodes:

Many authors, including Adam Grant, appear on podcasts to discuss their latest works. These discussions often dive deep into the book's main themes, ideas, and practical applications. By listening to these episodes, you can gain valuable insights in a format that suits a busy lifestyle. Grant's conversation with Malcolm Gladwell about "Hidden Potential" could be a goldmine of ideas for you.

2. Social Media:

In this age, authors actively engage with their readers on social media platforms. Adam Grant, for instance, shares bite-sized pieces of wisdom, book highlights, and thought-provoking questions on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. Following his posts can provide a daily dose of inspiration, and you can also join discussions with other readers.

3. YouTube Interviews:

Authors frequently take part in interviews and panel discussions, especially during book launches. Watching these interviews on YouTube can offer you a concise summary of their work's key takeaways. It's an excellent way to see if the book aligns with your interests and goals.

4. Book Reviews and Summaries:

Book reviews and summaries, found on various websites and platforms, offer condensed versions of the book's content. They distil the main points, arguments, and insights, giving you a quick understanding of what the book has to offer. While they can't replace the depth of reading, they are an excellent way to get a sense of the book's value.

I find that mixing up various sources helps me immerse myself into a certain author’s works or a genre. So, if I loved a Celest Ng or Chitra Banerjee Devakaruni novel, I enjoy checking out their social feed, getting to know more about their life on Wikipedia, watching their interviews and hearing them describe the book I enjoyed. The experience is immersive, and the book lingers in my head for much longer. The process leads to other pieces of their work and even their recommendations of authors and books. It’s like walking down a winding road, stopping now and then to smell the flowers, never really knowing what will pop up along the way.

Gladwell’s interview led me to Grant and their banter on the 10,000 hours and being okay to rethink our own work. Then Grant’s podcast led me to Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability and Simon Sinek’s ideas. Sinek’s conversation led me to Matthew Syed’s work on cognitive diversity and a special CIA and 9/11 story I love to tell.

Meandering your way through digital content can help you find your focus with the book in hand or the other way around. There’s no single way to learn or a single way to let your imagination be captured by new ideas.

Like work-life balance is now a work-life blend, explore what works best for you in the world of print and pixels.

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