Why Do We Respect Reading More Than Watching TV?


Everyone knows smart people read and lazy people watch TV, but aren’t they often doing the same thing?

I’m reading Game of Thrones right now, which is an epic fantasy series that I highly recommend. Being a human, I’m inclined to think highly of my own choices, and my desire and ability to consume books is one of the attributes worthy of merit.

But if I’m reading Game of Thrones along with four other books, and someone else is watching Game of Thrones (along with 5 other shows), what’s the actual difference?

Aren’t we both enjoying the STN (Struggle Triumph Narrative) that we all seek as part of our psyche? What’s the difference between doing it through book or television?

I’ve known plenty of “avid readers” who read nothing but garbage. Are they superior because they’re reading it rather than watching it?

I have a few candidate answers:

  1. We respect what fewer people can do. Reading takes some discipline,and requires more reading skill to get fully immersed in a story–especially as the language gets more difficult.

  2. Reading is often confused with reading non-fiction. People who read non-fiction for fun tend to be more educated, smarter, make more money, etc. So perhaps all reading is simply lumped together.

But neither of these are quite satisfactory to me. I think people like to consume stories. We want to hear gossip. We want to know who won this or that. We’re all about the struggle and the triumph.

So, if we’re all doing that, but some do it via opera and others do it through romance novels, how much light is really between these two?

You could say that the former is more likely to understand this post, and the latter is not, but that might not be accurate.

Unsupervised Learning — Security, Tech, and AI in 10 minutes…

Get a weekly breakdown of what's happening in security and tech—and why it matters.

Anyway, it’s worth considering. If you think watching TV is brain rot, but you think reading is a way to “expand the mind”, explain yourself.

[ UPDATE June 2015: After speaking with my friend Andrew about this, we’ve come up with another key differentiator, detailed below. ]

When talking with my friend Andrew we were trying to capture why avid readers seem to have more mental faculties than avid consumers of television.

I thought it was a matter of content, but he disagreed. He thought it was the fact that you have to build a world when you read, whereas in TV you do not because it’s being given to you.

I think that might be worth exploring.

On this view, it’s not so much what you’re taking in when you read or watch, but rather the effort required to do so. So with television the creator has built everything for you. How the characters look, the setting they’re in, etc.

But with reading, your mind and imagination do all that work. So it’s literally exercise every time you read, and that world-creating imagination then becomes a metaskill that can help you in numerous other places in life.

I’m not sure this is it, and it’s probably a combination of this and content quality anyway, but it’s an interesting theory.

[ Feb 25, 2013 ]

Related posts: