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Comparing Virtues – Part 1: Reading

The moving screen is an enthralling thing. We all know the hypnotic qualities of the TV and computer, and how they capture us when really we should – or want – to be doing something else. The little angel and the little devil on our shoulders start arguing: start reading one of those unread books, or just flop down on the couch in front of the TV?

Books by Les Chatfield via Flickr

Our conscience can debate the issue forever (usually while our eyes are glued to a screen), but as in an debate, there are pros and cons to both options.

In this first post, let’s argue the case for reading.

Full Control

When you read, your brain translates the black-on-white squiggles to full-colour images. You decide what you see – and what you don’t. Your imagination is more seamless than the best CGI, the main characters can look any way you want them to, and skipping icky scenes is easier when you don’t need to peer between your fingers to see if they’re over yet.

Despite the apparent dullness of words on paper, reading is visually versatile. The mind can be so wrapped up in the images conjured by the words that it gets confused about what is real and what is imagined (in fact, the brain has a hard time telling which perceived reality is real even at the best of times). Which is why a good book can immerse a reader in its story.

However, if we don’t put any effort into translating words to images, we don’t get to see anything at all. But that is not always the reader’s fault. Not all people see images when reading. That doesn’t make them bad readers – on the contrary! – but it can take the pleasure out of reading for fun. For them, a story that comes with prepared visuals (film or comics) may be more entertaining.

Limited Senses

A book can trigger the brain to produce not only visual associations, but also smells, sounds, taste and touch. However, they are all imagined. No blaring musical scores, loud explosions or distracting sound effects.

That can be an advantage if you’re as sensitive to noise as I am, but it’s also more considerate towards your fellow bus passengers, who are blissfull unaware of what story you are engrossed in. Also saves you embarrasing looks if you happen to be reading Fifty Shades of Grey or the like!

But while you can imagine the sound of the hero’s voice or the songs of Tolkien’s elves, the imagination of sound doesn’t quite stimulates the same parts of the brain that make you enjoy music. Just as reading about a delicious cake isn’t the same as tasting it.

Cost of Reading

Books take their toll, too. Printed books tend to be expensive to purchase, especially if you insist on buying new and popular titles. Thrift stores and discounts can be a solution, but their choice of titles is often limited.

E-books tend to be cheaper – even free – but not always. Even when they are, the required e-reader won’t come cheap. Like any machine, it can run out of power, and not all file formats will open on just any device. Of course an e-reader is lighter and takes up less space than a hardcover or paperback, but still for many people digital books can’t hold a candle to old-fashioned paperbacks.

Although, if you like classics – or simply aren’t in a rush –  there are multiple sources where you can get a copy of your book, either printed or digital, for next to nothing!

Mental Gymnastics

Of course the First And Foremost Argument For Reading, the one everyone always mentions whether they agree with it or not, is that reading is a workout for the mind.

Like muscles, the more you use your brain, the better it becomes. Because you must create your own sensory input, your brain needs to work hard. Processing new insights, thoughts and ideas help fuel your own creativity and command of language, too.

All this does require a fair amount of concentration, though. More so if the story you are reading is a complex one. Jogging your mind is all very well, but at the end of the long day’s work, that concentration may well be more than we can muster. At which point, we give up and scroll through our Facebook feed instead.

Pros & Cons

In short, reading engages the senses, imagination and provides exercise for the brain while entertaining us.

That’s all very lofty, but at the same time reading can be expensive and exhausting. Especially when  you’re trying to read War & Peace after working two jobs and putting the kids to bed…

So it’s fun and rewarding, but reading can also put a strain on you – on your eyes, if nothing else.

Join me here for Part 2, where the little shoulder imps battle out the pro’s and con’s of watching TV!

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