I love reading. I love books! I love serious reading as well as leisurely reading. And yet this thought “Is reading overrated?” has crossed my mind often in last few years. Let me tell why.
I am currently reading a book which is filled with quotations of many great people. I am struggling to like that book even though it has many good lines. That is mainly because the book talks far too often about knowledge/ worldly wisdom and more importantly, about reading, reading and reading – as the only way of gaining knowledge. For example, at one point it says that if you save time on commute to work or some other tasks and invest in reading, you can read few thousand pages per year. It cites example of someone who recommends reading 500 pages per day, as a way of getting wisdom.
I found all that too much to digest, and hence thought of this question again. Once I get a thought, Confirmation Bias kicks in. I started searching internet if anybody else had similar thought and found a very good article in The Guardian titled “Reading Is Overrated“. Notice the subtle difference. I had a question, the article is deterministic! The article’s subtext says “Too many people will have you believe that our very humanity resides in books – and that’s reading a little too much into it“. Do read the article at leisure.
There is a reason for this. For thousands of years humans transmitted their information and knowledge by hearing, memorizing and reciting (” श्रुती /स्मृती “). When humans discovered language and writing, they started engraving rocks. But it was still not portable. The real tipping point was in 1439-40 when the first Printing Press was developed by Gutenberg. It spread like a wildfire and by 16th century there were around 150-200 million books published. Books were the best and only way of preserving information and knowledge – until the arrival of computers and internet. Radio was invented in 1895 and radio broadcasting became popular in 20th century. Telephone and movies also became popular in 20th century. But they were not substitutes for books.
But with internet, so many new ways of learning and sharing knowledge emerged! Podcast is one way. Video recordings is another. Live teaching is yet another. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) is a system of delivering online courses. Many well-known universities such as Stanford, MIT, IITs in India have they own way of enabling MOOC. Hundreds of other start-ups are offering similar options. (Among these, I like Khan Academy).
One of the best, and underrated, sources of learning is YouTube. There are so many excellent videos – interviews, talks, discussions – that help you learn, acquire knowledge.
All these are serving the same purpose as reading or books did for so many centuries. And yet these alternate or new ways don’t get enough credit or recognition. In that sense, I feel reading is overrated.
Also, some people are very good teachers, educators but they may not write a book. We can learn so much from them, through these new channels. If we rely only on books/reading, we’ll lose all such knowledge.
I am not trying to berate books or reading in any way. I am simply thinking out loud on the notion (which I got from the current book and few other similar books) that one should not “waste” time reading watching news, TV etc. One should just lock oneself in isolation and read. Well, that’s one way…but not the only way.
For example, I would not have discovered Naval Ravikant, an entrepreneur and angel investor, had it not been for Twitter and Youtube. Naval has very good insights and thought provoking ideas. He has written a book (Venture Hacks), which I haven’t read. But I found him through his tweets first, and then on Youtube.
Here is Naval Ravikant talking to Nassim Nicolas Taleb in a stimulating conversation
Here is another video of Naval talking to Joe Rogan on his podcast
Do watch these videos and see if they were worth your time. If not, go back to reading, and sorry for wasting your time…
P.S.: Similar question, “Are books overrated” is posted on many social media portals. Here is one answer on Reddit which I liked…
“Books are just a media, like TV, internet and many other. What matters is the content. It’s true that there is more stupid content on internet and TV than on books, but in the end it all depends on the content, right? I know I risk getting a lot of down votes for that, but I saw at some moment (don’t remember when) here in Reddit people saying that they read 57 books from the Star Wars saga. For me that sounds like “I watched all 12 editions of big brother on TV” because I don’t consider Star Wars a good reading. Reading books doesn’t necessarily imply a good quality intellectual activity… Anyone agrees or disagrees?“