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OPINION | Do Modern People Read Less?


27 June 2016 | By Guo Zhen(郭桢)/ Supervised by Li Mei(李梅) | SISU

  • Reading

    I expect one day in the future we will regress to a peaceful state, holding books in the hand and preoccupied with reading for the sake of pure intellectual pleasure.

I

t is commonly believed that modern people read less. But I doubt the ambiguity of such opinion which attempts a comparison without a common ground. This comparison might be made in a chronological order, taking into consideration people in the past (maybe before the invention of cell phones and the advent of information age) and people in the digitalized age. If so, I still find it hard to give a definite answer due to the lack of statistics and different, complicated situations. I prefer to consider this question from a more objective perspective. That is to say, in our modern world, given the fact that large volumes of books and reading materials have been written and become accessible, people seem to devote less energy to reading, which indicates a discrepancy between people’s access to reading materials and their efforts in reading.

Some people may argue that they do cherish every opportunity to go through written or printed words, such as reading electronic advertisements at the metro station, discount instructions in Tmall.com and menus in the restaurants. Some of them even assert themselves to be dedicated WeChat subscribers, proudly announcing that they have read and learnt a lot from those compact essays in an efficient way. However, what I have gleaned from these self-defensive claims is just as profound and thought-provoking as were the claims themselves. Modern people are characterized to be restless and utilitarian. For one thing, bombarded with mass information and various distractions, they become increasingly flippant and impatient that they are inclined to seize eye-catching and energy-saving information. For another, they indulge in fragmented reading so much as to satisfy their utilitarian needs, say, for a certain financial theory or some basic knowledge of current news.

If restlessness and utilitarianism have reshaped the spirit of our age, serious and intensive reading may cease to exist. W. Somerset Maugham once said that “To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” From his point of view, reading helps a reader assuage sadness and seek happiness. However, for modern people, they can resort to a lot of ways other than reading to live colorfully, such as going to a theater, visiting a shrink or feeding a pet. Sadly, reading has been reduced to the last alternative to relieve themselves. Enchanted by the charm of reading, W. Somerset Maugham asserted that reading endowed him with intellectual pleasure which he found was the most satisfying and most enduring. “So what!” A modern person may sniff at such traditional belief, turning to his cell phone and taking delight in reading the latest gossip over his favorite celebrity. He must have immersed himself in such pleasure. So has every one of us. How can we force a person to conduct strenuous mental practice in order to seek for continuous enjoyment since he has long been used to superficial satisfaction?

The degradation of modern people’s reading habits is lamentable. I expect one day in the future we will regress to a peaceful state, holding books in the hand and preoccupied with reading for the sake of pure intellectual pleasure.

This is one of the featured articles by SES Writing Workshop. The author, Guo Zhen, is an undergraduate student of the School of English Studies, Shanghai International Studies University (SISU). The supervisor, Li Mei, is a lecturer of English at SISU. Her research areas are English-Chinese contrastive linguistics, discourse analysis and language teaching.

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Press Contact

SISU News Center, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Tel : +86 (21) 3537 2378

Email : news@shisu.edu.cn

Address :550 Dalian Road (W), Shanghai 200083, China

Further Reading