Fewer and fewer people are reading books. By books, I mean fiction read for pleasure. You hear articles written all the time about how social media, the internet, TV, radio, telegraphs, and newspapers are ruining the attention span of young adults and how we’re all going to be like the wheelchair people in Wall-E. It seems like every other day another article comes out in the Washington Post or Buzzfeed about how millennials are killing books.
Why do we think reading books for fun is important? It’s not.
In 2018, we have better things to do with our time than read books. The people who drool and circlejerk over “classic” literature fail to realize that as humans have progressed as a society, we’ve grown better at doing stuff. We’re better at running, we’re better at cooking, we’re better at music, and we’re just smarter and superior overall to those hundreds of years ago. A modern high school sports team would have destroyed the competition in the ancient Olympics. We’ve developed technologies and activities that are much more efficient and provide a better return on time investment than those we’ve had in the past.
1984, the book of edgy high schoolers across America, teaches us about the dangers of tyranny while delivering a thriller story. It’s a wonderful book. Just like any edgy high schooler, I too enjoyed the book when I was in high school. It taught the 16 year old me about politics, society, and people. However, it took a few hours and a few hundred pages. High schoolers now can just watch a 3 minute Youtube video about the topics and themes of 1984 and be just as educated.
With the internet, anyone (like me!) can have a voice. Anyone can put anything out on the internet for anyone to read. Books are subject to the whims of the market, the editors, the publishing company, the formats in which they must adhere to, and other miscellaneous factors that ensure maximum readership and profit. Getting a book published is difficult, way more difficult than publishing on Tumblr or hosting your own site on Github for free. We use this self-selection process to say “wow, books must be impressive since they got published.” This is erroneous reasoning.
With the global market of ideas that is the internet, books are simply failing to compete. There’s more interesting stuff in the world than there is in the non-fiction aisle of the library, and with the internet, writings about those things and events can be easily accessed by the common man to consume. These news articles, opinion pieces, blogposts, even social media commentaries are often more concise, provide a better return on investment, and are simply more interesting than some book that became famous because the printing press wasn’t invented yet.
There’s nothing wrong with reading books for pleasure. Getting immersed in a book is fun, and a good book can be a comfortable way to spend an afternoon. But compared to modern media formats, the opportunity cost of reading a book just isn’t very worth it.