What happens when we start reading more and watching TV less?

There’s a very interesting thread at the official kindle forum discussing an article on CNN which suggests that eReaders might be cutting into prime time TV watching habits.

The CNN article specifically talks about reading on the iPad, and how it might be leading to people reading news and more during 7 pm to 11 pm. Suddenly, the path of least resistance is a Tablet/eReader.

SRB writes -

In a nut shell, a study is finding that tablet ereading use is very high from 7-11pm. The idea being that ereader owners are cozying up on the couch with an ipad or kindle.

In typical Internet forum style the threat has been ripped into shreds - apparently none of it means anything.

However, it brings up two questions -

  1. Will eReaders and Tablets lead to people reading more books and articles?
  2. Will people reading more books and articles lead to people watching less TV?

The answers are probably – Probably and Probably.

For this post, let’s focus on the potential impact of people reading more books.

What happens when we start reading more books, and start watching less TV?

We aren’t going to make any friends amongst people who worship TV, people who produce TV shows, and advertisers. Good thing we don’t care very much.

  1. People might get smarter. Books are supposed to make you smarter, and TV is supposed to make you dumber, and if you increase your intake of the former, and lower your consumption of the latter, there’s a very good chance your brain cells are better off.
  2. People’s attention spans might grow longer.
  3. People might start to use their imaginations more. It would be quite tough at first – to imagine what a crime scene looks like, instead of seeing it on TV. Eventually people would get the hang of it.
  4. All that freedom from advertising might mean people stop associating happiness with buying a particular product.
  5. A lack of advertising in people’s evening fare might mean acceleration of the death of advertising – a trend which the Internet kicked off.
  6. People might grow their vocabularies, and would have more words to describe what they feel and experience. Which might turn the world into a far more beautiful place than reality television.
  7. Instead of a pattern of quick meaningless hits of dopamine, people would start experiencing slow build-ups to far more exhilirating experiences.

Of course, you could go online, and someone at a forum would convince you that reading books is no different from watching TV. That advertisements from beer companies telling men their lives should revolve around someone else’s athletic achievements are the exact same as reading about a soldier laying down his life for his country.

But it’s not the same thing.

eReaders and reading will combine with the Internet to make people a lot smarter

There’s addition by subtraction – You move to books and you no longer have advertising.

There’s an exchange – instead of TV which is designed to dumb people down, you have books. Books have to be better for us - How could they possibly be worse than Television?

There’s also the absence of psychological trickery - the Internet is slowly getting polluted by social games which remove whatever value there is in games (storytelling, imagination building, mental dexterity) and replace it with tricks and social pressure. Books are still mostly untouched.

Words vs Worse

Books only have words. It’s really difficult to trick people with words – It requires a level of mastery at which most people move beyond material things. To become exceptional with words you need a lifetime, and if you’ve spent a lifetime slaving away at words for little fiscal reward, there’s a good chance the last thing you’ll want is to trick people out of their money.

When’s the last time a really good author tried to get you to buy virtual anything?

Tolkien wasn’t trying to sell you virtual flowers for your Hobbit cottage. Hemingway wasn’t trying to get you to use A-Plus brand of fish lure – guaranteed to work even with anthropomorphic fish. Dickens didn’t have text link advertisements to London boarding houses in his books.

We’ve almost completely dissociated from the concept of being artists – Do you really ever think of the people involved in social games as artists? Does anyone hope their kids grow up to learn exceptional psychological trickery so they can get people to pay $50 for 75 magic jelly beans that make rainbow turnips grow faster?

Instead of creating art for humans to cherish, companies now want to create tools to herd animals.

Wherever there’s art these days, there are companies trying to milk it for money, and advertisers trying to mold it into tools to influence people. Which prevents it from being art.

Books give us two things that TV never can – the concept of being an artist unpolluted by advertising, masterpieces crafted by men and women too skilled and too unmaterialistic to be dangerous in trivial ways.

6 Responses

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful and entertaining post.

    I havent’t watched tv in years (except for some sporadic occasions), but I still tend to waste my evening surfing aimlessly through the internet or watching stupid tv shows in streaming.
    I actually enjoy reading much, much more, but I feel some sort of addiction to this habit and it requires a lot of effort to actually close my laptop and grab my Kindle. I eventually manage to do it, but I’m always baffled by the addictive power that “shutting down” my brain has on me.

    Probably TV is even more addictive, therefore I think that it will be extremely difficult for people to change their habits permanently; the trend reported by CNN is most likely related to the “new gadget effect”.

    Anyway, I really want to thank you for your blog, it helps me motivate myself to read more.

  2. I have started noticing that my grandchildren are starting to use the kindle more. They will get the kindles out and take turns reading (the 4 8-year olds) to each other and to the younger ones. I have always bought them books. They read at a higher level then when Iwas their age. The Dick and Jane series use to be a firdt grade reader but they were ready to start tackling it coming out of pre-K. Intrest children in books while they are young and they will read. They will even put down teir DS for so.e yime exploring with the Boxcar children or have an asventure with the A to z mysteries. And they like the illustrations even in black and white.

  3. Thank you for this!….I am encouraging my husband and daughter to read and USE THEIR BRAINS, and we also just purchased the Wii system, including Wii Fit Plus, to get up and moving. They somehow think the TV must be on if we are in the house whether they are watching it or not…I turn it to the Jazz music station for a nice background sound.

    This may sound corny or dated, but I’ve always remembered this quote from my mother, it can be applied to several things: “Words written are always there, words spoken vanish in the air” :)

  4. I just read that Google is looking at ways of putting advertising into its recently purchased ereader technology. If they do it, it won’t be long before the rest do as well…

  5. “the Internet is slowly getting polluted by social games which remove whatever value there is in games (storytelling, imagination building, mental dexterity) and replace it with tricks and social pressure.”

    “Books give us two things that TV never can – the concept of being an artist unpolluted by advertising, masterpieces crafted by men and women too skilled and too unmaterialistic to be dangerous in trivial ways.”

    And yet there is a counter-trend: YouTube is empowering artists and craftsmen / women to demonstrate their artistry and craft, reach big audiences, advance the level of accomplishment in their fields, create communities around their activity, etc.

    There’s a good article about this trend from an inside-YouTube perspective in the latest issue of Fast Company, and Chris Anderson of TED has just written an inspiring cover article for Wired about how this has affected things like street dancing (and even corset-making — see for instance http://www.youtube.com/user/bishonenrancher#p/u/40/XsL0MoG2hvo ).

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