Everything You’re Reading Every Day Is Shaping Your Thoughts and Ideas
What effect do all the texts surrounding us have on the mind?
Our present age may, at times, seem deeply literate. It may even seem that written communication is more present than ever before in history. We never stop reading and everywhere we go we’re surrounded by writing.
As with so much that feeds the current frenzy in which we find ourselves, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the quality of these messages. Maybe we read more than we did a few decades ago, but does that mean we read better? What’s happening with our ability to concentrate? Do we still have the patience to read novels like War and Peace or In Search of Lost Time? Has the brevity and immediacy of the internet atrophied our ability to put things off and to simply enjoy the wait? Does this mean that we’ve forever lost the possibility of embarking on these journeys of reading?
Such questions might strike us as haphazard. Deep down, they’re addressed to the same concern. In the history of the development of human culture and civilization, written culture has for many centuries been one of the fundamental foods for thought.
Just as our diets shapes our bodies, and life experiences mold our personalities, so reading can define, to an important degree, the itinerary of our ideas.
Philosophy usually shows us the way of reflection, of doubt and of criticism. Literature teaches us to understand ourselves and those around us and can enliven a compassion that exists within us. Scientific readings expand our knowledge of the world and the world’s phenomena. Poetry illuminates our existence, insofar as it reveals an aesthetic way of looking and being. Essays provoke us and challenge us to think differently. Still others simply ask us to discover something we hadn’t previously known.
In every case above, it’s also possible to experience the first and last of reading’s gifts: pleasure. Beyond information, culture, the opening of new horizons, the effects on our brains and our memories, and the empathy generated, the truth is that reading can also be very pleasant.
Following in the footsteps of Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher Byung Chul-Han has pointed out the value in pause and detachment in humanity’s cultural history. Only when the human being stops – that is, when a person wanders, gets bored, stops doing, daydreams, thinks, and reflects – is he or she able to create, to generate new ideas, and to dare to try new, different things. All of the arts and philosophy and the things in which we take such pride are the result of the very possibility of stopping and waiting. Reading is no exception. It’s one of the best ways to practice creative non-doing, that waste of time in which we allow ourselves not only to not do what we’re supposed to be doing, but to choose to do this non-doing in something we enjoy. Perhaps, in productive terms it’s useless, but taking the time to enjoy ourselves…
At this point, it’s worth asking if in our own era when we’re surrounded by “content”, much of which we’re possibly “reading,” what effect is this plentitude of written messages and the constant competition for our attention really having?
What nutrients are reaching our minds with everything we read every day?
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