“Loving to read as a strategist”. Episode 14. We are what we read
Wishing you a beautiful weekend, an amazing last one of October that insinuates that Thanksgiving is almost around the corner. Christmas is also coming to us soon. Today there are no slides. Next week I will prepare two sets of slides for the consequential topics.
Our reading defines our intellectual uniqueness.
Let´s start by pulling out a phrase from Roger Chartier, a French contemporary researcher about writing, reading, and literacy: “Reading can never be reduced to what is read” (1). Professor Chartier, who is director of studies of L’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) at the Centre of Recherches Historiques in Paris, a Professor in the Collège de France and the Annenberg Visiting Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, has signaled with that phrase what we wish to convey today. In the current context of digitalization of everything, Chartier, which is a top guru lecturer in book matters, reminds us that reading is a cultural habit, and can never be shrunk to the simple act of finding a text, but it is a cultural practice, it is a tradition, a pattern of living.
Reading long texts, for Chartier, is a practiced custom that requires from us a lot of hard work, “the ability to arrive at the author’s main ideas”. Reading in consequence is a daily practice, equivalent to the amount of time that we dedicate to practicing sports, taking a bath daily, or eating three times a day. If the reading of books has lost its primary convention in our schedules, then it is obvious that the habit that transforms us from simple 8th-grade readers to prominent intellectuals is now hidden or has been paused during the last 25 years. To say that we are what we read means that if we read nothing, then we are lost in translation. That is why we have all this mess or disbalance in our nations. We only read what matters commercially to our survival, and we have pushed out other sources of reading. We as a human civilization have erased reading long texts from our daily habits, so if we don´t read, what we are? Are we simply buyers of products and services? Or are we in this universe to give all our brain power to machines? In developed economies that have clearly measured literacy in different studies, as the OECD report that I cited in our last episode (2), our lack of long-text readings means just one thing: we have sacrificed our process to become intellectuals.
A new cohort of people (starting as Generation X) has lost the desire to become intellectuals. It is as if we simply did not care for it. We were so busy working and adapting ourselves to technological gadgets. We became merchants of whatever we learned. And we stopped to read. The desire to become a studious educated person is a decision that comes from studying integrally, preparing ourselves for decades, reading long books, and doing research all our life. As a civilization, since the digitalization of our texts and industries on the Internet, we have adopted the conformity of confusing digital scrolling with the genuine action of reading books. And those two things are not the same. We can´t confuse apples with pears. It is not the same as scrolling for information on social media platforms (informational reading); as reading a long text of at least 90,000 words per month or per week. The young kids (the next generation ahead) have also acquired this “lack of reading” ritual from us. Chartier states in a recent interview at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC): “The problem lies in dragging these young readers away from digital reading, which is fast and impatient; to reading books, which is slow, attentive, and critical. We must teach them that reading has benefits, and get people to give up social media… It’s not easy. Schools and the media must understand that they have this responsibility (3).
In this milieu, individuals (all of us, including young people) are not reading long texts, because we have substituted that habit for something else. We have swapped the time for reading books with digital skimming. We all have already replaced the long text reading cultural practice with something else that I can´t even describe as digital reading. Chartier recognizes the difference between digital reading and reading books. For Eleonora Escalante Strategy what people do now haven´t reached the level of digital reading yet, it is digital browsing, digital scanning, or digital skimming. But not digital reading, so I disagree with Chartier in the definition of the term. What our civilization does, is a step below the definition of reading. However, Chartier supports our rationale in the same position: “Half of our young people don’t buy books in any format (either digital or printed), and the phrase “We’ve never read so much” isn’t true, as reading on social media isn’t the same as reading a book”.
Eleonora Escalante Strategy conceives true reading as a circumscribed action of reading long texts. And if as a civilization we are not reading, that means we have lost our intellectual uniqueness. Or at least we are in the process to lose it. If we don´t recover ourselves for the next 3 decades.
Is it true that we are what we read?
In a civilization that is not reading, how can I answer this question? If 50% of our younger cohort is not reading at all, but only digital browsing and 3 out of 10 adults read as an 8th-grade student, meanwhile the rest is below that, then I wonder what remains are we becoming? Are we being converted into carcasses of illiteracy? Deprived of reading anything, what is the world heading up to? Humbly, and without any doubt, we dare to write we are going back in time to the moment when our brains were functioning before the Enlightenment centuries.
Our intellectual development has stopped a long time ago (at least 2 decades of pausing). It has been essentially demarcated by a before and after the Smartphone (2008). Slowly, the backbone of the digitalization of human culture started some years before the Y2K. But still, during the first decade of 2000, the digital experience was delineated with clear boundaries: our computers remained at the job site: we handled jobs in the office, and rarely we took them home with our laptops. Before 2000, we did not have palm pilots, and we used a Nokia-type 1999 cellphone, which only helped us to communicate. Nothing more than that. Our telephone mobiles did not allow instant Whatsapp messaging or emails. So, 22 years ago, we were clearly bordered by a boundary: our home wasn´t the office. Our office wasn´t our home. And we still had time for the habit of long reading. The lack of the current devices that operate with NAIQIs – Nanotechnology, Artificial Intelligence (includes automation), Quantum Supremacy, and the Internet; made this boundary possible.
Nowadays that has changed, and we don´t have any frontiers of separation. We do everything everywhere. And 20 years have passed, in the heritage of sacrificing the practice of book-reading. Little by little, we have initiated going backward to the obscurantism era, ironically in an era where books abound on the internet. In a context of colossal heavyweights of information coming out from our tech gadgets. This statement is not a piece of fake news, for God´s sake, it has ruined Generation X’s development for intellectuality. Our philosophic, anthropologic, social, and historic debates to define the future, have been lost. These debates which were so common throughout our past history, have been shattered and cracked a long time ago. Our generation and below has a clear insufficiency of intellectuals; because the next steps in our civilization are driven by multinational corporations who want to make money with all the NAIQIs, satisfying our wants and needs. Any potential intellectual who wants to become one is attacked and disdained, shut down, or condemned to poverty simply because as a civilization, we have lost our culture of reading. And since we can´t handle this truth, because billions of dollars have been invested for decades to switch from the real to the digital, then no one, wants to admit this mistake.
Courageously some of us have started to wake up. I hope it is not too late for us to fix it. Generation X is clearly responsible for beginning to correct these errors that were also not our fault. We were seduced by the flashy new technologies, which were never in place before. No one discerned appropriately. And that comprises that all of us (including the last intellectuals from the baby-boomers generation that are still alive) were also blinded to articulate the risks of digitalization more than 20 years ago. If the most knowledgeable intellectuals of my parent’s generation endorsed the origins of the digital economy, and most Generation X professionals suppressed the philosophy, the history, the history of books, sociology, the history of art, anthropology, or other human literature flourishment; then please if we don´t read, there is clear evidence that we have failed to disclose the importance of the intellectual class. The Generation X literati class is almost absent, and only some of us have started to comprehend it lately. That is why we have not been able to act as the pioneers to debate before commercial initiatives arrive in societies. Our incipient Generation X emerging scholars are well behind the Silicon Valley or other tech hub centers´ initiatives. In the absence of intellectuals from my generation, the risks associated with the digital economy are higher.
Not even the cleverest people of the top allure size of Roger Chartier, Louis Dupré, Pierre Bourdieu, Robert Darnton, or Jonathan Israel, in between other historians of books or truth-seekers realized about it in advance. These amazing intellectuals have seen digitalization as a tool to create a universal electronic library for everyone, which is a clear benefit, but the problem is that the more books you upload on the Internet, the less that people are reading. Social media and other apps create too much noise. Creating a culture of reading doesn´t come with digital books, it only comes with the conscious awareness that we desperately need to become intellectuals through the habit of reading, and the materialization of the book in our hands facilitates the process.
We are what we read. Reading as a side dish.
Now let´s move on to a positive note, outside of the digital skimming actions of our times while watching our Smartphones´ applications; at least, some of us keep reading long texts as a side dish. Probably we were raised in a family that adored reading books and our reading role models were always at home with our grandparents, mom, dad, aunties, uncles, and other relatives. Or we were lucky enough to feel remorse and we have always been buying books, even though we don´t read them fully, nevertheless we keep them in our personal library as a side-dish. And that is super positive, in the context of a civilization that is heading to no reading at all. At least we have something to start with. Look at things through this example: You are going to eat a meal composed of four components: the appetizer, the entrée/main course, the side dish, and the dessert. Now, our reading experience of long texts has been moved from the entrée to the side dish. That implies that at least it exists conceptually in the meal, and it may or may not be empty, but still exists as a notion. We are still on time to put reading back and petit a petit, return to include it as the main course. If Generation X and Millennials don´t do it as role model behavior for the next cohort of generations (Generation Z), it will come up a time when reading books won´t exist, and it will be substituted by digital scrolling.
We are what we read. Designing our lifetime reading
I just googled which were the most read books of our times, and I will offer you a popular answer for the UK: according to the Guardian (4), the authors who are read the most in the United Kingdom are Dan Brown (thriller-adventure), J.K. Rowling (mythological fiction for teenagers), E.L. James (erotic) and Stephanie Meyers (young adult fiction); to my surprise, the Holy Bible did not appear. But this answer tells us a lot about what is happening nowadays. In addition, a bad content book charged with lugubrious lust and eroticism can destroy your innocent soul. For example, Barnes & Noble offers a list of the must-book reads of all times. Lithub.com has comprised a list of the 50 top books most sold on amazon: The list coincides very much with the first UK one, with some aggregations of authors: Suzanne Collins and Margaret Atwood. Nevertheless, we are curious about why we can´t find a book about philosophical authors, sociology, anthropology, the history of books, or the history of art. Robert Darnton, another giant expert on books, who belong to my parent’s generation is also hoping for the best, but if there aren´t more book historians as Darntons or Chartiers in Generation X, who can welcome the baton from them, it could be possible that our lifetime reading journey may disappear in the middle of digital scrolling. What do you think?
I am not imposing my views in relation to what to read, but if I ask you what do you read? And your answer is that you haven´t read a book for years. Or your answer is one of the books listed by the Guardian or the Amazon.com list; then I wonder what type of society we have. Our fountain of books must be ample and from different genres. If excellent academic papers or books are watched with scorn, and we have not practiced debates before taking strategic decisions with our businesses that affect our good traditions, then how will we transfer the importance of intellectuals and their crucial role in our history to the next cohort of leaders?.
Let me finish sharing a new chart that the World Economic Forum has shared recently:
All these skills, including the technological ones, only come by reading long texts and by experience. The issue here is that experience to become an intellectual takes at least 20 to 30 years after university graduation to show up. So, it only arrives in our mid-50s, and if we don´t read, how are we going to comply with these requirements list? It is impossible. The WEF believes that it takes 6 months to develop these skills. We disagree, based on our own experience. It takes a lifetime to acquire problem-solving and critical thinking. It is impossible to teach critical thinking without reading.
Announcement: Next Tuesday. we will explore the subject “Is reading the same as learning?”. Thank you.
Strategic Music Section.
Music Reading chill-outs
A good reader usually has been blessed with a good reading instructor or educator. The action of reading well starts with the teachers: It is an active process of “constructive meaning”, “creative thinking”, “curiosity”, “investigation mindset”, “monitoring by test-error”, “explorative joy” and “critical reasoning”. Today we will discuss the “critical reasoning” quality. Critical thinking or critical reasoning only comes with time or after reading and reading and reading. Our brains get used to comparing books. And we begin to understand the authors when we request from them more answers. Only by reading more, we can begin to exercise the habit of critical reasoning. Critical reasoning is never going to happen in automatic mode. Reading tutors are required to read carefully to make sense in the context of the author, and outside that (in our reality-local or globally).
For reading teachers new information coming from a book is easier to handle when you can relate to an existing building block. If that old information doesn´t exist, then people get creative to imagine before reasoning. That is why critical reasoning only comes after the imagination. If we set reading long texts as a side dish, then we are killing our inventiveness, and creative thinking is unattainable.
Sherlock Holmes, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Agatha Christie had critical reasoning. They had incredible minds that allowed them to transform information in unique and extreme ways. They were capable to exercise critical reasoning because they were capable of imagining. Something that comes only by reading, and writing.
Our music for reading today is from Hauser and Friends.
Caroline Campbell plays the violin; Lola Astanova, the piano; Ksenija Sidorova, the accordion; Petrit Çeku, the guitar. With Ivo Lipanovic, conductor of the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra. A lovely concert.
See you next Tuesday 1st of November, with the fifteenth episode of the saga “Loving to read as a strategist: Is reading the same as learning?”. Thank you for reading to me. Happy reading.
“Loving to Read as a Strategist”. Illustrative and non-commercial image. Giphy source from Nazaret Escobedo
Sources of reference are utilized today.
- Reeser, T. and Spading, S. “Reading Literature/Culture: A translation of reading as a cultural practice” Style. Vol. 36. no. 4. Resources in Stylistics and Literary Analysis, Penn State University Press, 2002. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/style.36.4.659
Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.
Episode 14th total amount of words: 2,996.
Reading time: 15 minutes
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