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On Reading

I've always been a bookworm and generally prefer reading to social interaction. My book consumption peaked in high school at 5-7 per week, though much of that was pabulum like science fiction. Probably most of my reading then was escapism from the Jesuits. Today I go through about 4-5/month. Probably half of that is technical material; the rest a mix of history, biography and fiction.

Then there's the Internet. It's marvelous to have so much information just a click away. All of my newspaper consumption is online, with the exception of Sunday's Carroll County Times, which is more about agriculture than culture. Unfortunately, most of my technical magazine consumption is online, too, since there are basically no print magazines for professionals anymore. It's interesting that successful print magazines seem to be targeted at people's avocations rather than vocations. We're willing to write a check for Fine Woodworking, but not for Electronics or Computer Design (remember those magazines?). I do think print is more user-friendly than the 'net, but that could be the old fart in me speaking.

I do pay for access to some sites and to print pubs like Circuit Cellar Ink. We "pay" for other on-line content by tolerating ads. I'd happily pay cash for the old-style EDN and other technical publications because the ads that pepper the site just slide by the eyeballs. Back in the day of print the ads were juicy technical content we read to keep up with what products were available to aid our work.
(Bernie Sanders wants to make college free; one wonders if salting textbooks with ads could offset the costs. I disagree with him, feeling that one should have skin in one's hugely-important education, but do agree the costs are unconscionable.)

Never have there been more books published each year, and never, because of on-line retailers, has it been easier to buy them. Yet sales are down. In my circle of friends I see some whose incessant browsing of Facebook (an ironic name in this context) has largely replaced reading real books, or even ebooks.

Never has any sort of literacy been more available. Consider scientific literacy: the world is awash with great and very accessible books describing every aspect of science. (A recent favorite of mine: The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which is about the push to eradicate cancer.) According to a recent article this is the best of all times to be an autodidact. Yet it seems scientific illiteracy is rampant. I can't find any reliable data about whether this is the norm, improving, or getting worse. But it is clear that science and technology has never been more important to mankind, so you'd think there would be a rush to the, alas too small, science section at Borders.

In this political season plenty of tomes are out promoting various views. Last week I read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance based on a breathless review by Rod Dreher, but was disappointed. Though an interesting story about growing up poor in Appalachia, the writing is subpar and the focus too personal to honestly draw large conclusions. In fact, I find most of those sorts of books unremarkable due to their shallow analysis or hopelessly-biased viewpoints. Do you find yourself immersed in political books?

Is reading in decline? It's hard to know since there's so much content on the Internet which is likely trumping books. But I wonder if video is subsuming reading. YouTube alone gets 4 billion views per day. The amount of time people spend on that site is growing 50% per year. I have a hate/tolerate relationship with online videos. They can consume vast amounts of time to no useful end. But occasionally there's something I want to learn where a video is truly worth 1000 pictures. I always crank the speed up to 1.5X which is a bit more efficient.

How are your reading habits changing? Do you find yourself spending more or less time huddled with a book, and how much of that is for technical content versus the sheer joy of being immersed in a story?

Published July, 2016