Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why do we read?

"There's no mistaking a photograph.
It has the clearest, cleanest memory."
- "On The Gathering Storm"

Given the prolific availability and now low cost of producing and distributing photos and video, plus the ubiquitous nature of high-speed Internet access in the last four or five years, why do individuals continue to read text?  Why do people still read books when they could just watch movies and forget how to read? offers a lot of their stories in video format but much remains as printed words with sidebars of photos and movies.  The local and national news websites that I visit still offer most of their content in written format, too  Much of the web is still driven by text-based stories with video and photos only for added depth and nuance.  Why do we still look at words if we don't have to?

Part of it is because there is still a larger cost associated with photos and video.  They are larger to download, use more server space, and still, not everyone knows how to shoot a good photo or produce a meaningful video of an event.  There is a lot more (and I mean a LOT more) video available for consumption than there was just three years ago.

But I believe it's more than simple cost and ease which keeps the words flowing.  I believe there is an innate need in the human mind to be fed ideas and meaning differently than our peers.  There's a bit of gray matter somewhere deep in us that says we need some level of creativity and ambiguity when processing information so that we can filter it through our own experiences and belief systems, good and bad.  Video and photos are not subjective.  They are an unblinking record of what has transpired.  Unless we're examining a well-made, highly produced art film or Hollywood blockbuster, there is little room for interpretation when it comes to photos and video.  What you see is what it is.  And what it is is what it means.

Words on the other hand, can be as rich and diverse in their portrayal of another's thoughts as we would like them to be.  There can be so much layered truth in a given sentence, paragraph, or entire story that such written prose, whether it be a fiction book or hard news story, can still offer us as humans a wide meadow of our own selves to frolic in.  That's why there will always be room for the printed word.


  1. yeah, it's something in us, like our need to touch and feel matter how interactive the porn technology gets, we still need real people in our lives. Unless we are totally damaged and just can't relate to others. Like me on some days! Ha!

  2. The human brain is such an amazing, adaptive problem solver:

    Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.

    When it comes to reading text (that’s spelled correctly) your mind performs a different kind of juggling act to create your own mental images and all the accompanying sensations communicated from the words on the page. But it’s a show that only you have access to. It’s what makes reading such a private, personal pleasure. Thanks for reminding me of this j! I don’t ever want to take the ability to read or the availability of words for granted.

  3. Lisa, your comment simply begs me to ask, "Just how damaged are you?" ;)

    And, Ann, you should be doing the blogging. Your comments are often much more insightful and entertaining! We are such a lucky species to be able to share ideas through speech, through our tools (photos and movies) but also through the intimate method of language: the written word.

    It is glorious.


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