Reading in the age of instant gratificationReading is one of the easiest ways to understand the complexities of the world, but why aren’t more people doing it?
When I was in college, I was a regular library visitor. I liked reading, and the smell of books, plus the peace and quiet that came with it, was a bonus. I picked one book and sat down on the chair—trying to understand more about life. When I looked up, I found the library fairly deserted. This is something I still don’t understand. Reading is one of the easiest ways to understand more about the complexities of the world but why aren’t more people reading?
When asked about this problem, Manjushree Thapa, essayist, translator, and author of books like ‘Forget Kathmandu’, ‘The Tutor of History’, and ‘All of Us In Our Lives’, says it is troubling that people aren’t reading more. “For me, reading has always been a way to enhance the experience of being alive, of being human,” she adds.
Thapa’s sentiments will resonate with readers universally. Books evoke many emotions, enabling us to connect with our humanity. She also shares that reading isn’t merely about learning; it’s a pathway to imagine, enjoy, and lead a meaningful life.
I’ve noticed through conversations with fellow readers how books, with their transformative power, shape perspectives. Some texts stir intense emotions, while non-fiction broadens our understanding of the world. Through words, the distance between us and someone living thousands of miles away shrinks. Despite this profound impact, we aren’t reading much.
During my college years, the library was often empty as students preferred to hang out at cafes—probably because you can be as loud as you want there, and when they aren’t talking, students are on their phones—sharing memes and texting. While phones are convenient, I think we rely on them too much. If we spend some of that time reading, it would be more beneficial for us.
Pragati Rai, the author of ‘Lekhak Ki Swasni’, ‘Thangra’ and ‘Birsiyeko Mritu’, points out how our addiction to short-form entertainment results in us analysing and contemplating the world less and less. Smartphones inundate us with a barrage of notifications, pop-ups, and an overload of information. This feels similar to instant gratification, which makes reading feel slow and frustrating in comparison. “To read, one has to be patient and be willing to labour their brain to understand some complex things. With these many entertainment devices around, it has become a challenge,” adds Rai.
The other challenge in the age of Instagram reels and Tiktok videos is the ever-decreasing attention span. Some studies claim that in this day and age, our attention span is worse than that of a goldfish. We struggle to focus, perpetually seeking more entertainment. Reading, once a cherished pastime, has become a challenge amidst constant interruptions.
Poet, playwright and literary critic Abhi Subedi views the decline in reading culture as a global trend. He believes it is happening because there are many alternative ways to access knowledge. Something Subedi is weary about is the decrease in reading culture due to a lack of awareness about its importance.
Additionally, Subedi is concerned that people today are excessively engaged in sensationalism and political activism. “This lifestyle has taken up a lot of time of today’s youth, making them unfamiliar with reading and its benefits,” he says.
Besides the aforementioned reasons, Rai believes the education system of Nepal also doesn’t encourage the students to read outside their curriculum. “The standard for a good student is maintained by the marks they score, and the focus is always on who can remember the content more or, as we call it, ghokera padne.” The system pressurises the students to compete and get better grades; thus, they read only when exams are around. Such reading is laced with a fear of failure. So, the reading culture isn’t strongly set in our education landscape.
Rai advocates for a shift in reading priorities, urging authorities to promote reading. She adds, “In developed nations, central libraries serve as community hubs, fostering a culture of reading—something that is noticeably absent here.”
In essence, the decline in reading culture is a complex issue. While technology offers diverse knowledge channels, it also distracts us from the richness of books. Our waning attention spans further compound the problem. Coupled with an education system that prioritises grades over genuine learning, we aren’t all that motivated to read. We must acknowledge these hurdles and work collectively to overcome them. Only then can the joy of reading permeate our society once more.