Importance of Reading Books in the Modern Digital Age
Today we live in a disruptive and a distracting world
In the last forty years or so, the world has transformed into something which could never have been imagined by any one of us. The progress in computers and communication technology has made this change possible. The most important impact has been that we have much more information than we can handle. This has affected our attention span, our ability to actually absorb and analyze what our brains are bombarded with. We are under tremendous pressure because of this information overload. Television, internet, cell phones, Whatsapp and mails are snatching our valuable time from us. We get information but not retainable knowledge.
At the same time the world is moving, as I see it, towards disruptivity, which means that new innovations and ideas which break the existing norms and create avenues for new methods of doing business, creating products that do tremendous value addition. Life cycle of such disruptive outcomes is short as they are quickly replaced by the next wave of disruptive thinking.
In such a scenario imagination is at the forefront of all meaningful activity. First you imagine, then you get an idea, then you plan and only then you execute. If imagination has to be fired, our mind needs to absorb the content at ease and with interest. Content must also be of different types, different genres, and different complexions.
Books as vehicles of knowledge, wisdom and creating creative minds
In a chaotic information overloaded environment, reading a book while tucked up in your bed or sitting under a tree or in a quiet library is something which is no less than meditation! It lets you concentrate and lets you derive that divine intellectual pleasure which nothing else can give.
Have you ever thought why in most cases a book is more impactful than a movie based on that book? The reason is that while reading a book you interpret and imagine things as you see them, whereas in a movie what you see is the director’s interpretation! Every dark street, or alley or a tree described in a story is owned by you and only you see it that way – which is uniquely different.
Every author has to say something. A book is years of research which not only augments our imagination it also adds to our knowledge and introduces us to different writing styles. While reading a story is knowledge, the moral of the story is wisdom, which is at the core of our learning. Therefore, one must be able to extract the essence of the book to get the maximum bang for the buck.
‘The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. It is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning’.
Great people were great readers too Successful people from all walks of life read a lot to enhance their knowledge and expression.
Dr B R Ambedkar was a voracious reader and confessed that he could develop a good character and personality because of his good reading habits. Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were also devoted to books. Gandhi’s turning points in life came because of books by Leo Tolstoy. Thinkers like Swami Vivekananda read a lot and could therefore influence the world at a young age.
Former US President, John F Kennedy was a dedicated reader. He read almost all books written by Winston Churchill. He was injured during the Second World War and while in the hospital he read extensively. Sometimes his visitors in the hospital could not see him as he was surrounded by books around his pillow. He read history, politics and also loved reading James Bond novels.
Winston Churchill himself had read hundreds of books in his life. During the Second World War when he was the prime minister of Great Britain, he read many books. His world view was shaped by his reading habits. He read the likes of Leon Uris, Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw. His oratory and parliamentary speeches were powerful as he had acquired a formidable vocabulary and expression because of his habit of reading books.
President F D Roosevelt read almost two books a day. Abraham Lincoln was a self-educated person and he made up the deficiency by reading books. Many CEOs of big companies read almost four to five books a month. Film actors like Deepika Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan read their favorite books. Books are not only a good way to pass time but also help us in developing a good character. Shah Rukh Khan bought a set of books on Gautam Buddha to learn how to remain calm under stress.
My experience as a teacher
While selecting students for the MBA programme at my institute at Symbiosis, I tried something very simple to know about a candidate during an interview. He/she was asked to write in one page about his journey from the time he got his interview call to where he was now. This required no previous knowledge, yet most of them were unable to put across their ideas in a coherent manner. The main reason was they could not articulate as most did not read books.
I started buying fiction of all genres for the college library and made book review a part of business communication under a faculty. In two years a student had to go through almost twenty books and present them to the batch. It paid rich dividends as people learnt how to express themselves better during corporate interviews.
My experience as an author
The most important asset of an author is an idea for the book that he/she plans. You cannot get ideas out of vacuum and therefore what you have read through your life, especially books, does help you formulate and crystallize your thoughts. Every author is indirectly influenced by other authors. Therefore, knowledge is not absolute; it is evolving and continuous. Authors, thinkers, managers and educationists must read books covering a variety of topics and read several authors to enhance their knowledge.
‘It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt’.
Impact on Communication skills
Communication skill is considered a very important asset. It involves three things.
1. How you speak?
2. How you articulate?
3. What you speak?
Unfortunately most of us concentrate on the first one alone. This can be done very quickly, may be with a crash course in spoken English. The problem is with the next two. What you speak cannot be learnt in a month, it requires years of reading which builds a cumulative knowledge stack and also supports point number two i.e. articulation. This can be built only if a student has been made to read as a constant endeavor. Books of different type become a saviour. We also lay a lot of emphasis on presentation skills and teach power point to the extent of making it a crutch. In fact, initially one should work through the debate route where you need to do a real time bout with an opponent. This gives excellent results.
I always tell my students, ‘If you have to use power point then there is no power in your point’. Orators like Churchill, Obama, or Kennedy never used it and they have been the greatest orators of the world.
The Road Ahead
We can do the following –
1. Introduce students to simple, easy and interesting books so that they don’t get put off or discouraged in the beginning. One can start with comics or story books which are a light read.
2. Let every student buy some of his own books and take pride in making his personal library.
3. Involve parents and tell them to buy books for children and even their friends on occasions like birthdays or festivals.
4. Buy fiction and self help books for the school library. These should be of different genres like, story, mystery, biography, thrillers and so on. This makes interesting reading.
5. Make book reviews a part of your curriculum.
6. Give books as prizes instead of some other gift items.
7. Make book shop trips a part of field work, where children can go and spend half day in a good book shop.
8. Encourage on-line buying, it is cheaper and easier.
‘If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’
Virender Kapoor is a thinker, an educationist and an inspirational guru. Founder of Orange Ivy play schools, former Director of a prestigious Management Institute under the symbiosis umbrella he is an alumnus of IIT Bombay. He holds a Masters in computer science and Masters in International Relations and strategic studies.
His books on Emotional Intelligence, leadership and self-help have been translated in several regional and foreign languages. Know more about him, at www.virenderkapoor.com or mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org