Are lost reading skills the canary in the coal mine?

The idea that people don’t read books as much as they used to resonated strongly with several subscribers.

Connecting our lack of book reading to too many digital distractions to read deeply, however, was a surprise.

Makes sense on many levels

A neighbor called me up that evening to say “That hit me right on the nose.”

A subscriber who recently returned from a several week meditation trip to India said she noticed it took her two to three days to finally settle into reading a book while there.

A Gallup poll in late 2021 found that Americans said they read an average of 12.6 books during the previous year, a smaller number than Gallup has measured in any prior survey back to 1990. That translates to roughly two or three fewer books per year than between 2001 and 2016.

Reading helps define us as humans

“Reading is one of the most important skills our species has acquired,” said Sam Harris, the NYTimes best-selling author who wrote the book and created the meditation app Waking Up I mentioned last week. (Emphasis mine.)

What disturbs me is that our species has little awareness we are on the edge of losing our ability to read and think deeply. That possibility is already here – in the palm of everyone’s hand – and more frightening than any of the “sky is falling” fears about AI.

Books and Nature: tripping without the drugs

Getting lost in a book, like Nature, is an immersion experience. We lose ourselves in the sights, sounds, awe and wonder of a natural place just as we are transported to an author’s landscape and story. Both trigger our imagination and creativity, rather than the urge to click.

No guilt. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not reading. Get yourself outside and let your attention wander and be fascinated for 15-20 minutes. Then read. Build your reading time.

Better yet – take your book outside.

3 Resources for You

Books, articles, tips, tools and advice to help you unplug.

Gallup: Americans Reading Fewer Books Than in the Past

Scott H. Young: Are We Losing the Ability to Read Books?

Sartorial Greek: 5 Reasons Why Adults Don’t Read Books

2 Questions for You

Reflections, questions and ideas to consider to break the digital impasse.

1st Q: Where can you find reading time in your busy days?

2nd Q: How many books would you like to read this year?

Reflection Feedback

From Felicity: (on Your Brain on Digital)
1. Yes, I have noticed a change in my ability to focus for long periods of time. I thought it was because it was “hard to find the time,” but maybe it’s also part of the digital thing? I do still get into flow, but I have to be mindful of things that can break it. For me, it’s checking my phone or email for messages, not so much social media. And the checking for messages isn’t even necessary – it’s just because “I want a small break, oh let’s see if there’s anything new here” – even though there usually isn’t.

2. I lost myself in books constantly as a kid all the way through my mid-30s. I find it a lot harder to do now. Some of it is that my standards have gotten higher. But even when I do sit down to read for an hour, I often find myself having difficulty focusing on what I’m reading for long periods of time. Somehow, my reading muscle has atrophied in the last 7 or 8 years. I didn’t really even think of it as a muscle until the last year or so – it was just something I did, constantly, through most of my life.

1 Action for You

One small step to start the change.

Sit outside tech-free with Nature. Blue sky at least. A tree or two are helpful. Allow yourself to unfocus your attention for 15-20 minutes. Let yourself be fascinated by whatever is happening and let your attention wander.

Nature View

At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.

~Toni Morrison