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Kris Nordgren

Social Media Analyst at Synthesio, Tempero

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Reading is slow and boring compared to new faster media. Myth or fact?

The idea that people don't read books anymore pops up regularly and is hardly ever contested. It is suggested that audiences will choose videos over articles and dvd's over novels, and that the reason for this is that reading is SLOW while new media are FAST.

I find however, that I can absorb much more information spending five minutes reading an article than I can watching a video, and I certainly get much more out of 10 hours of reading a book than out of 10 hours watching a season of a popular tv-series. The written word is in fact FAST: it takes less time to transfer more information.

Why then the myth that reading is slow and that is why it is less popular?

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    Jun 2 2011: After doing a quick study of the stats on publishing, book sales, new titles, # of publishers, etc. my snap-shot conclusion is that the popularity of books is in fact higher than ever before in history and increasing. Though there are few stats from ancient cultures on literature consumption I think it is useful to make some conservative assumptions concerning literacy rates from the advent of written language around 7-10 thousand years ago (probably around 8 T.Y.A.) being fairly low and exclusive to the upper echelons of the socioeconomic ladder, a major increase in book consumption came along with the printing press and has grown exponentially since then.

    A 7 year snap-shot from the 90s for new titles shows steady growth:
    Year Number of new titles (U.S.)
    1990 - 46743
    1991 – 48146
    1992 – 49276
    1993 – 42217
    1994 – 51863
    1995 – 62039
    1996 – 58465
    1997 – 64711

    book sales from (U.S.):
    1998 – $23.01 billion
    1999 – $24 billion
    2000 – $25.32 billion
    2001 - - $25,356,500,000

    with the top 10 publishers controlling nearly 89% of the market.

    While other forms of media and information transmission have arisen in recent decades and gained huge popularity, book consumption is still higher than ever before and growing with rising literacy rates around the globe. I don't think the stats match the assumption that book consumption is declining. If anything I think new forms of media have aided the growth of the book industry by providing directed information streams, advertisement to a wider market, and facilitating or providing a venue for small time publishers and writers to reach global audiences.
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    Jun 2 2011: I think the issue is not about reading being slow but about people having a shorter attention span in conjunction with new media being fast and everybody feeling the pressure to absorb more information in a shorter period of time. It is true that information is sometimes conveyed more efficiently through multimedia, however, there is no replacement to the experience of reading...
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    May 26 2011: Reading is slow thats true. But boring ? Not really to many.

    Reading involves reader with in itself, readers enters in to a world , own world with in world created by writer, its different experience. That's why many great literary piece couldn't be captured as film with all it's beauty.

    Even when all these media like TV, Movie, Internet were not around , right that time also not everybody were reader, right that time also lot people found reading to be boring while other's used to find extremely enjoyable, enlightening. Same now , to know whether there is a percentage drop in readership due to these media need to go Hans Rosling :)
    But sure lot more people now a days read online instead of hardcopy books, that's a change happening.
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    May 26 2011: I think audio, video, pictures, text, and real life conversations all are useful ways of communicating information, and that some are more approperiate in some cases and others in other cases.

    In broad strokes I think audio, video and pictures are powerful in communicating feelings and putting people into the mood of what is described. On the other hand written text is supperior when trying to communicating a certain line of thought, and real life convesrsations fall somewhere in between. With audio, video, and pictures the reciever is more passive and the story continues even if the reciever pays attention or not. And I think this together with the vast amount of excess information that is contained in these forms of communication is supperior for portraying an event. But the reciever will inevitably miss a lot of the details and it is hard to get across a long coherent train of thoughts this way. For communicating a long coherent train of thoughts I think written text is much more important as the reciever has a much more active role while reading and can go back whenever the line of thought is lost.
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    May 24 2011: Reading provides room for imagination. When reading a book I interpret the described world and see it as I may. It's nice to have that in which visual media takes away. On the other hand here is a comment I made the other day on Liliandr Liliandr's conversation 'Will newspapers survive in the Internet epoch? If yes what the secrets of staying the course, the secrets of surviving?'
    ".... With the coming digital age journalism will change. There is likely to be a trend away from written articles. Written communication is so time consuming, we have now ways to communicate through visual/audio communication which many see as a less taxing way to receive information. I'm not saying that writing will become obsolete, just that there will be less of it as time goes by."

    I would think that books will stop being in print eventually, but the books will still be written. With the technology though we get to change format of books. Multi media books are coming such as http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/mike_matas.html
    Also a new type of book through social network updates could create a really neat new age mystery.
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    May 24 2011: When I consider the issue as a whole, comparing it with the impact of things like movies- I think reading is the one great tool we all have to really know what we think as an individual. There is no peer group around in the moment. No peer pressure (unless you bought the book based on a review maybe) but it is just you and the author mano a mano - mind to mind- wrestling with concepts and ideas. The author has tools to use but you control picking up the book and putting it down. You have time to think about concepts as they are presented. You decide on a very real level whether her thoughts align with your thoughts. The greatest 'thinks ever thunk" (to quote Dr. Seus a great author) are in books- spun out with the author's very best efforts. We face the argument at its best with every tool that they use to recommend it and we answer within ourselves - yes, this is what I think or no, interesting but that's not it. At least that's what I do. Still, I am enriched by every book.
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    May 24 2011: Comfort, i think is a key word for this. When we watch TV we almost disconnect from everything and we become very passive. That put us in a ver vulnerable condition... who watches who?

    Why do the popular believe is to be only audio-visual?
    Why do we always want MORE information and not BETTER information?
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      May 24 2011: When I read a good book I am completely disconnected from my surroundings. I get completely absorbed, I don't even realize that there are pages and words. When my concentration gets broken and I come back to my surroundings I wonder how I turn fifty pages. I can't remember turning them or even seeing them I just see the story. With t.v. sometimes I 'zone out' but generally not as much as a good book.
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        May 24 2011: The experience to change places inside with a book and the TV is from a different kind. When we read we pay attention because we're re-creating all, so we concentrate. With a TV show we let it to do almost all the work, so even i we're paying some attention, we only recieve but don't connect with the thing.

        I'm not implying that TV is bad & books are good, there's no duality in this, i'm just pointing to the reaction we have to a experience where we can be part of it and other where we can't.

        Of course with a good book we disconnect, but is the way we do that make the difference.
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      May 25 2011: "Why do we always want more information instead of better information?" I think this is a profound question for our era. The only answer that I can come up with it that perhaps many people have given up hoping for better information because they are so inundated with stimuli that they can no longer tell what good information is or where to find it. Some people search the masterpieces of the past, while others search the edges of science. There is just too much information to absorb and we no longer trust those who were supposed to interpret it faithfully. Priests have let us down as have leaders of every faith, governments specialize in spin and news media have forgotten their duty too. And many of our friends are just as confused as we are- or equally vulnerable to believing a lie.
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          May 26 2011: Hello Idea Man,

          It would/could certainly be a huge serice to humanity if one could be prgrammed and set look like a positive virus! Maybe the articles and 'fact' like the websites against vaccination of childen could be left with a big long nose like pinocchio's.
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    May 16 2011: I'm with you, I need books like I need air, food, or sleep, sometimes even more. without them i shrivel up and die. watching T.V. makes me feel like a slug thats had salt poured on it, video games don't do anything for me, and movies can be entertaining and sometimes even beautiful works of art, but they rarely blow my mind the way books do. I don't think they've fallen out of use or ever will, in fact, I think more people are reading and writing today than ever before in history, but thats just an assumption.
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      May 31 2011: May Hare, I think that is true. I really believe more people are writing and more people are reading what is written but not always in book form.
      I really think that books will always have a place in human experience because they allow the time for the development of the really big idea- the one that cannot be reduced to a sound bite- the one that changes your way of understanding something important.
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    May 16 2011: When we read we often use more than two senses, because when we imagine we take some of our own experience to build the experience that we're reading. We recreate the scene helped by the words of the writer.
    Also I don't understand this obsession for velocity, why everything has to be faster... Can it be better? or more enjoyable? or more fullfilling? and that's not a matter of velocity. When we read we make connections, and we're able to stop and turn back the page and read again, or mark an idea with a pencil, or write somethin on the pages... When we watch TV we hardly have this opportunity.

    I recommend the talk of Carl Honoré (http://www.ted.com/talks/carl_honore_praises_slowness.html) he has some very clever insights about reading.

    And I suggest to think about what will we be missing if the next generation, forgets how to read, or forgets about the advantages of reading.
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    May 12 2011: While reading, everything takes place in your head and not on a movie screen. You brain adds details that you can never imagine a movie to have, your imagination takes over and you are in a different world. Read a really good author and you'l know what i mean.