I grasp the hyperbole of titling an online article, “You’re Not Going to Read This”, but the statement is true. We don’t read, we consume. And when we consume, we are not fully comprehending information.
I have always enjoyed reading. Diving into a great story is like entering another world and exploring all that it has to offer. The small bookshelf across from where I’m writing is littered with past literary conquests.
Last September my wife gifted me with a subscription to Audible for my birthday. It really opened up my ability to “read”. I was now “reading” while driving to and from work, while walking the dog, while doing chores. I was “reading” more than ever.
However, this new form of “reading” also meant things slipped through the cracks. There are a few titles in my Audible library that are marked “read” where I have zero recollection of the story. I didn’t “read” those titles, I listened to them.
Listening is an act of consumption. Reading means the content is not just consumed, but comprehended.
Our brains have been trained to simply consume content. We put something on TV to provide white noise and mindless consumption while playing games or “reading” articles on our phones.
Students are taught to consume the information in their textbooks and retain it just long enough to pass a test. Then the information is then forfeited for newer, temporary information. Our consumption is systemic.
We simply do not read anymore.
A few years ago M.G. Siegler explained how he uses Siri to “read” articles aloud. At the time, I thought it was genius. Medium now offers audio versions on a number of stories. It seems the Audible-ization of the written word is at hand.
This accessibility to audio versions means that fewer words will actually be read. Fewer words will be seen by the eyes and deciphered by the brain. We’ll hear words and our brain will process them, but we won’t read them.
While listening to an audiobook, I occasionally hear a word and wonder what it would look like on a page. Unfortunately, there’s no way to experience that without pausing the book and asking Siri. Even then, the word won’t be in context and will just be a definition on a screen, devoid of allure and excitement.
When all online content is available in audio or video format, why bother with the words at all? Will we revert back to an auditory society, the written word completely devalued?
The more we listen and the less we read, the less we will comprehend what we’re hearing. It all becomes more white noise to listen to. More temporary information to be consumed and then forgotten.
No one reads anymore.
We skim. We listen.