The main purpose of reading is not to ingest or process information.


The following is a recent comment on the website

cas d’intérêt

April 28, 2021


One of the outcomes of our computer-based lives is that fewer people are doing sustained reading. In fact, many people who once were avid readers complain that they just don’t enjoy reading as much, get frustrated when they have to read closely for specific information, and don’t read as long as they once did. All of that is science fact discovered by real live scientists doing sciencey things.

Moreover, though, is that there are some of those wacky scientists who think it might be better for us since it more closely matches how we evolved to acquire and process information. Reading is unnatural, so sustained concentration is not required much outside of it. Now, that we don’t have to read as much anymore, people are losing the habit.

One thing all that truncated more to the point writing does for us, though, is make it possible to access more information in a shorter amount of time.

It’s a fascinating modern world we live in, isn’t it? But, I still prefer books to e-readers, newsprint to online papers, and sustained reading. I just wish there was more time for it.


Roger W. Smith, response:

I hope I don’t sound snide. I too prefer print books to e-books — in fact, I don’t like e-books (my sons seem to). But I disagree with several points here, or their implications. Yes, reading is an acquired skill, but one that is acquired early by most children. To nitpick: To me, it is not “unnatural” (I may be misconstruing what you meant). It is very relaxing and pleasurable to curl up with a book. And, also for me, the main purpose of reading is not to ingest or process information — it is something else, basically, aesthetic enjoyment (often) of good writing and being able to immerse myself in thoughts of great minds. To me, the only kind of reading is “sustained reading” — page by page. It is by definiiton a slow process, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am talking about the reading of BOOKS.


posted by Roger W. Smith

  April 30, 2020

2 thoughts on “The main purpose of reading is not to ingest or process information.

  1. Pete Smith

    I think there is room for both opinions here.

    I am with you 100% regarding the joy of reading for pleasure. For me, it might be Moby Dick or some of Hemingway or Catch 22 or the best of Twain, and especially the thoughtful lyricism of books like Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angels or Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, for which it would be a crime to read them for information, ignoring their beautiful language and thoughtfulness.

    But there are many times when one reads for information. What was Trump up to today? What is Biden really proposing? Is the stock market tanking? Who won the Yankees game last night? How do bitcoins work? In such cases, I appreciate the kind of brevity the commenter on your blog is favoring.

    This isn’t an either/or, either — from my perspective. Some writing in newspapers is worthy of carefully savoring, and enjoying. In fact, what comes to mind here is a number of your articles when you were writing for Newsday — for example, the piece you wrote on the doctor who was still making house calls. One wouldn’t read that for any information, unless perhaps you were related to that doctor or one of his patients. One read it purely for enjoyment, of which it provided an ample supply.

    So, in my view, both views are right.

  2. Roger W. Smith

    Thanks for the compliment, Pete. The last sentence of my posted comment — “I am talking about the reading of BOOKS” — clarifies its scope and thrust.

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