The international day for books is not among the many important global observances that is celebrated the world over. Perhaps because not many are avid readers or lovers of books in particular. It takes a lot of discipline and even more, a desire to improve on one’s knowledge to be able to be a reader.
While the traditional way of reading is changing in current times, the space of technological advances in the likes of kindle and online books, does not improve the number of people who read. One can say that this is perhaps advised by a generation where patience as a virtue is seldom practiced with people instead embracing with glee the free things in life which are also presented instantaneously.
There are some who have not read a single book in the last seven years and when you meet with them to converse about the trends that are changing the world, you get a blank look. It is worse if you are a keen reader and can easily adapt to the new words that now form what one can assume is everyday communication.
The state is even more saddening for those in business who have no time to build on their knowledge through reading – a discipline that should be akin to eating especially for those in leadership. In any case, this has been slapped with reality by the words of Harry S. Truman, who said, ‘Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers’. As a leader, what have you read today?
As a leader “if you want to innovate, read.” Innovation is all about new ideas but where do you go to learn about what worked in the past and what might work in the future? Read. How do you develop the intellect and the library of ideas on which to draw for innovation? Read. For those seeking to venture in business, how do you cultivate your credibility and compete for the attention of venture capitalists or those who will sponsor your innovations? Read.
At present, the Internet, opportunities for learning have skyrocketed. Respected universities make courses available free online, Amazon offers books for free online just by downloading them to your Kindle or to a Kindle application that runs on almost any platform. The Internet Archive (archive.org) has 2.5 million free books. The aim is to advance knowledge, creativity and educational excellence but sadly this is not the case with dropping levels of knowledge on life’s facts.
The secret is that the solution lies right at our fingertips. The decline of people’s intellect is often blamed on the rise of cable television and the Internet, but it began long before that. While as a society we have learned the skill of reading, we have no longer acquired the practice. Sure, people read, but usually as a last resort — on the plane, when you’re sick, “to fall asleep.” Most people abandon all attempts at reading as soon as some alternative media is even remotely available.
One of the key excuses given by those who do not read books is that really there is no time for it. Often such excuses are accompanies by a myriad other reasons including ‘I have an 8 to 5 job’, ‘My children have a lot of homework’, ‘My priority right now is putting food on the table and getting my health back’ and many others.
While all these are facts of life, the place of reading should not be placed alongside any of life’s happenings. The thing about literary people is, their life and perspective is far expanded beyond the small reach of their immediate borders. They see things through others eyes and in other times and places. If you want to go beyond a limited view of the world, your own immediate experiences, your own restrictive cognitive reality, the experiences of your very own last year or two, reading will do this for you.
It is the lack of reading that continues to slow innovation even in great corporations that once led the way in thoughtful yet life changing ideas. This is because innovation is driven by knowledge which is sourced from among other sources books that if read, provoke our minds to think. Without thinking one dies and innovation becomes a dream whose reality will never be experienced.
But why are there so many of us who do not read? Writing in the Psychology Today journal, Dr. Peter Toohey noted that people are getting their story-shot right now not just from books but also from TV and movies, and also, unexpectedly and increasingly, even from audiobooks.
With this particular case focusing on the USA, Toohey’s sentiments seem to be proposed by Michael Kozlowski, the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader, as he reckons that, audiobooks are the fastest growing segment in the digital publishing industry. Locally, it has been in the mainstream space that as Kenyans we do not have a reading culture among us not just books, but also newspapers.
A survey released by GeoPoll in 2015 revealed that only 20% of the youth in Kenya aged 15 years to 35 years read newspapers and magazines. The average youth in Kenya is distracted by different media much of which is passive making it difficult for them to embrace the discipline that comes with reading. Have we become human goldfish?
A yes may be the truthful answer then, especially if the study by Microsoft Corporate in 2015 is true that the attention span of a person is 8 seconds – 4 seconds down from what it was in 1995. The exception is of course when the youth are reading for examinations or employment. It is no longer savvy to engage in a communication and quote a literary writer the likes of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe and even Chimamanda Adichie and win admiration.
And as we celebrate the international day for Books today, it is time to go back to the discipline of creating time and read – preferably from a book. While time is moving fast, the challenge also goes to those with a passion for writing be they autobiographies, fiction, scientific, motivation and even religious, to get that pen, be creative and keep writing. To all readers, Happy International Book Day 2019.