It seems so much time, money and effort is spent on teaching our children to read. Community programs have even been developed expressing the importance of parents reading to their kids. However, children learn by example and when parents are not reading themselves or parents are not reinforcing the idea by buying their kids books instead of video games, then a child never learns to develop a love for reading or an understanding of why it is so important. Reading is an intellectual stimulus and without its inclusion society struggles in social, political, and medical ways.
It is for these reasons that the focus needs to be placed on more than just the physical act of reading, but on the why it is important and the development of a love for the process. Reading is critical to social development and its success as a solitary act is, in a way dependent on its incorporation into a social atmosphere. Finding kinship in shared book experiences connects people and helps them work and play together in a more productive fashion. Reading helps social development by giving examples or guidelines for situational behaviors.
According to a survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, “people who read for pleasure are many times more likely than those who don’t to visit museums and attend musical performances, almost three times as likely to perform volunteer and charity work, and almost twice as likely to attend sporting events” (Solomon, 2004). This is an important distinction because it means that over half of the population has, as Solomon puts it, “settled into apathy” (2004).
For the portion of the population who does not find time to read for pleasure or otherwise a process of mental degradation begins that affects physical and psychological health. Reading requires effort and concentration that is not utilized when using technological substitutes such as television and video games. In fact, most people use T. V. and video to decompress from their daily stresses, they want to actively ‘turn off’ their mind. Parts of the brain that are not actively ‘exercised’ degrade over time. Recall becomes slower and memories fade.
“There is some persuasive evidence that escalating levels of Alzheimer’s disease reflect a lack of active engagement of adult minds” (Solomon, 2004). Disuse of reading and overuse of visual media also has psychological affects. Reading stimulates thoughts and feelings and develops an ability to process and understand psychological motivations. T. V. and video come ‘pre-processed’, undermining this valuable life skill. Reading also provides a constant dialogue that invites interaction and thus can be viewed in some ways as a form of friendship.
Television and video games are interaction with a screen that invites loneliness. Depression is on the rise and can largely be attributed to such a large increase in television watching and video game playing. For a ‘depressed’ and ‘inert’ population political involvement becomes close to nil. Solomon writes, “Without books, we cannot succeed in our current struggle against absolutism and terrorism. . . You are what you read. If you read nothing, then your mind withers, and your ideals lose their vitality and sway”(2004).
Reading is critical to maintaining an involved and strong political environment, but without it you have no foundation for your ideals based in fact. Though potentially valid and well intentioned, ideas will be likely disregarded. For centuries, leaders in systems of political absolution have understood that books are a societies ‘most powerful weapon’. It is no wonder that one of the first actions these leaders take (in theory – such as in the book Fahrenheit and practice – such as in the Nazi regime) is to burn books. Reading is vital to enriching and improving quality of life socially, medically and politically.
It is no wonder we have seen such a drastic decrease in social decline, physical and mental health, and political involvement coinciding with the dramatic decrease in reading levels. It isn’t the skill of reading that is declining, but the pleasure of and understanding of the importance for its practice. Participants in a society can not read between the lines of the meaningful undertones of existence when they just are not reading at all.
Solomon, Andrew. “The Closing of the American Book. ” New York Times 10 July, 2004: 17.