By far one of the most painful sentences that I hear people say on a semi-regular basis is:
“I don’t like to read.”
I’ll admit I’m biased because I love to read. One of the greatest gifts I feel you can give yourself is knowledge and understanding, but I think my aversion to this sentence goes much deeper than a mere personal preference. What I find really troublesome about that line of thinking is that it’s a statement that seems to fly in the face of one of our most basic rights and privileges as human beings.
The Wayback Machine
A quick Google search on the history of reading or the history of illiteracy begins to frame the issue. Historically, if you wanted to occlude a group of people from improving their station in life the best way to do it was to keep them illiterate. Rulers, governments, corporations, and religious institutions have used the inability to read to their great advantage. How does a person know whether something is of benefit to them if they can’t read the details laid out before them in a contract, law, or other written notification? “Making your mark” used to have a much different meaning than it does in recent times. That statement in modern society is all about the assertion of knowledge and the application of skill as individuals rise up and become something that they were not before. It is inherently an empowering phrase.
A hundred years ago and further back in history that phrase referred to something much different. One meaning of Making your mark in the past meant scribbling something that represented your approval on some type of contract laid out before you—many times designed to favor the group initiating the contract and proving to be a dis-advantage for those who don’t know what they just signed. It wasn’t until literacy was made a priority for most that people could start to begin what was in their best interest.
Around the Horn
That’s a heady subject and one that I am by no means an expert in. Yet, one thing, to me at least, is clear. Reading is important. If we completely ignore the historic implications of this subject and just look at what reading affords us, the benefits are clear. There is to date no equal to passing along knowledge and learning through the process of reading. It is perhaps the most efficient way of transmitting knowledge. Now, that’s not to say that videos, podcasts, and other multi-media methods of knowledge transmission are not as effective as reading, but there are way fewer of those resources than what we have available in the written word. It is also infinitely more difficult to gain the same level of knowledge depth in those methods of media when compared to the written word.
When we apply this to a career like design or engineering, careers that are by nature dynamic and constantly changing, the need to develop a strong passion for reading cannot be underestimated. Sure, those TED Talk videos, YouTubers, and podcasters are going to be beneficial, but again, they cannot reach the depth of content in a span of time that matches our short and shrinking attention spans…and if they do go that deep, where do you think they are gathering the knowledge for that video? Books perhaps?
Developing a love of reading takes time and patience, and we’re only going to get out of it what we put into it (like so many things). Take it slow. Gradually increase your reading time. A healthy reading schedule, developed over time, is perhaps the best way to stay on top of your game and your career. The other is application and experimentation of what you’ve learned, but that’s a topic for later.