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Face reading a book, in a bit of shock. Drawing by Brady Dale, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

Blame the Internet! or, Maybe folks just don’t want to read?

There’s a conspiracy afoot to excuse people from reading.

If you’re a member of certain classes in American society (educated, maybe moderate to lefty, at least know people who listen to public radio), it feels like there’s a social obligation to read, as if one’s peers hold it against acquaintances who haven’t read the latest hot book or don’t have an informed opinion on Andrew Jackson, Ludwig von Mises or Werner Herzog.

And it plays out in other groups as well, just with different degrees and expectations.

Thankfully, for many of the people who feel overwhelmed by these pressures and just want to watch TV, a new excuse has taken hold and there’s a consensus forming around it: we simply can’t read any more because technology has ruined our brains.

It’s hogwash.

My suspicion is that people don’t really want to read and the people who repeat this nonsense weren’t going to read much anyway. It’s a relief for them that others seem to be buying the excuse.

(Oh but there have been “studies!” It’s funny though – that “work” never seems to compare the present to behavior before the internet, does it?)

So I have two things to say:

Society wide, reading is a public good. It cements the brotherhood of man. I’m pretty sure that people on balance read more today than they ever have but they are also reading from so many more sources and perspectives we don’t have that sense that everyone’s read the same stuff anymore. It’s probably okay. It’s a web of perspectives that’s ultimately binding us together around some main nodes.

When people propagate this myth that the Internet and mobile devices are wrecking our attention, it undermines that spirit that keeps those with the will looking at words on papers (both analog and digital) that keeps us all together.

Don’t read if you don’t want to, but don’t repeat this excuse. That’s all I ask.

But really I’m writing this to talk some smack. The internet isn’t the problem with reading. People are the problem with reading. The people who really wany to read, they read just fine.

—Brady Dale
November 10, 2018

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