Despite being one of our oldest means of communication, writing remains the richest means to express ideas in the 21st century. The learning derived from a focused hour of reading can be matched by few other mediums.
To explore why, let us look at the writing process. Books are always written through several iterations of reading and editing. Authors start with an outline and scribble their first drafts. They then make revisions as needed to the main message of their draft. Then comes the painstaking part of combing each sentence, paragraph and word for edits. If that wasn’t enough, it is then sent to copy writers and publishers for further changes. Through all these changes, an author can quite easily get through at least five drafts of a book before it is printed. All of that work ensures that you get the most bang for the buck for every second you read and every pie you spend on a book.
Today, we are surrounded by other mediums that seem like substitutes for reading. But each of these mediums typically start with the written word and dilute it to suit their audience. Writing for radio, for instance, has stringent rules about sentence structure and complexity – to avoid subordinate clauses and limit the number of ideas to one idea per sentence. The problem with television is that it continues to be expensive, and has to be diluted for mass consumption. Every other audio-visual niche in the internet is yet to match the richness and refinement of the written word. Besides, books will always retain one advantage over every other medium – that they have stood the test of time. Today, I can pick up a book that has was stored in the library of Alexandria two thousand years ago, and read it in the original.
The written word also offers the reader more flexibility than other mediums. I can choose to re-read the first paragraph, slow down on the second one and skim through the third and fourth ones. The experience of reading is an act of co-creation between the reader and the writer. As a writer I can describe characters, but as a reader, I am free to imagine their appearance and the tone of their voice.
In a world filled with distractions, it is easy to lose sight of the value of reading (and writing). Every minute spent in reading offers us the richest second-hand learning experience possible. Every minute not spent reading is to forego that opportunity.