When I walk into classrooms these days, it is common to find students reading from electronic devices either tablets or smartphones. Yes, we have got to go paperless, we all want to save the planet. Then, I started to wonder, why aren’t we trying to save our ability to think critically? Don’t get me wrong, I love my IPad and I cannot live without Google. Yet, I also love reading books. There is something special about reading books that my IPad cannot offer, the texture of paper on my fingertips, the sound of turning pages and unevenly worn off pages, which ensures me that I am somehow building knowledge by my own doing. More significantly, it secures me a moment of total seclusion. Separating myself from my world and putting myself into the writer’s world, as if I am having a conversation with authors. It forces me to think about things that I have neither interests nor intention of knowing. Surprisingly, it is such unexpected journey of exploration which often gives me a sweet sense of freedom. That is the power of reading a book, that could not be replaced by high tech reading devices we carry in our bags.
Yet, I ask to myself, is it such an outdated claim for our students? To remind them, reading books is still the key element to build their cognition, even when A.I. secretaries and nannies are on their final test-runs to be served in near future. No doubt, it is very difficult to finish a book these days. We are already reading too much on the net. Highly advanced smartphones are always feeding us with “useful” information, even “knowledge” that are personally selected for us; short enough to casually read in commute but various enough to not turn away from the screen. Our unconscious choice of clicks on the net has limited an act of reading to skimming for information, not a prelude to think deeply. It has reached the point that only time I can finish any kind of a book is when I am on a plane for hours without Wi-Fi connection. We may be persuading ourselves that we are “too busy” to sit down for a book. Or we are already “reading” too much, yet are we? It could be just an illusion we hold on to, without admitting it is ourselves who are caught up with the idea that we have to follow whatever the trendy news on line faster than others, or at least with the appropriate speed, otherwise be “left-out” of social community. However, it is not totally an illusion or fantasy since we have allowed it to dominate our lives more real than the reality itself.
As the world becomes more digitalized, I realize the kind of reading that calms me, invites me to academic adventures, and encourages me to think harder, was the way of reading I have inadvertently traded with a treat of immediacy and convenience. We are fully aware of what habitual reading snippets of articles on the net is doing to us. I also find reading a whole book, which used to be such an easy task, has become a challenging task of which I have to keep on pulling myself to stay focused. Then, I wonder, what would it do to our students, “digital natives,” who have not experienced pre-internet era? What would it mean for them to read slowly or physically searching for what they might be interested by turning pages in books? Living in Korea, with its high-speed internet on every ground they step on along with fast-paced changes of trend, it would be very difficult to block out the noise and read deeply, thus, think critically. Then, what are they missing out?
I couldn’t help myself having mixed feelings when millions of people had participated in Mark Zuckerberg’s “A Year of Books” Challenge back in 2015. How did reading books become a fad of a photoshoot for Facebook page? Is it the only motivation for digital natives to experience an act of book-reading in our time? As advanced technology has permitted us to conveniently take in more information in a short period of time, it seems to have dragged us to more confusion and to the flood of “fake news” replacing each other in every five seconds. It is in this particular moment when critical reading is more necessary than ever. Reading needs to be more than a competition for popularity on social media, we need to make ourselves take a moment to read a book, think about the ideas, so our mind can have time and training to mold what we have input to something for our own.
Reading critically needs to be more encouraged on campus for our students to find out the real pleasure of reading, to slow down their thoughts and contemplate, so it can be their fruit of knowledge. American comedian Groucho Marx once said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book” which we should try out; leave your smartphone out in the living room for a while, let’s grab a book and go to the other room.