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Why is reading better?

  1. Jul 23, 2008 #1
    A few days ago, I was trying articulate an argument why reading books is better than watching TV. I was very frustrated that at first I pretty much came up blank. I thought they both basically involve staring at a medium and processing the information contained in it. Since I NEVER watch TV and I generally have very negative feelings toward that activity, I thought I needed to come up with some justification.

    After a while, I came up with this:

    1. Reading gives you much more control over information you receive. For one it lets you control the rate of inflow since you can read fast or slow. Furthermore, you can skip several paragraphs or pages if you think they are trite or boring. Of course, you can fast forward and change scenes if you are watching a movie, but it is a bit different I think.

    2. It requires far more mental work to "make sense" of the words on a page than the images on a screen.

    3. The selection of literature is far larger and more rich than the selection of movies. There are TONS of movies that I have reservations calling complete trash (literally their value to me is the same as the wrapper on my sandwich). There are of course also trashy books but they are very rare and outnumbered by books that are quality works.

    Anyone want to add to the list?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 23, 2008 #2
    4) Reading opens ones mind to different prose and styles of languages, as well as new vocabulary. By practicing (reading), one can learn to communicate in such 'new' ways, which are often much more literate. You won't find that on MTV.
  4. Jul 23, 2008 #3
    Reading is from the Devil and the TV is twice as fast.
  5. Jul 23, 2008 #4
    If you never watch TV, then you are in no place to say reading is better than TV.

    Quite honestly, TV is a DIFFERENT medium than paper. It can convey things that books cant, but the price you pay is that it is subject to the directors interpretation, not yours.

    BUT, TV simply cant have the depth and amount of content that a book can.

    BUTT, I've watch a lot of christopher hitchens interviews/debates on you tube. Im slowly slowly reading his book and guess what, I've already SEEN him say almost EXACTLY the same thing on you tube.
  6. Jul 23, 2008 #5
    Why do you use MTV as a benchmark? Why not use something good, like a show on the news or debate where you CAN learn new vocabulary.

    Or, a program on engineering or science on how things work or are made. MUCH more interesting to actually SEE it than read about it.
  7. Jul 23, 2008 #6
    5) You actually have to think about what you're reading and comprehend the material.
  8. Jul 23, 2008 #7
    You can get colorful visuals in a book too.
  9. Jul 23, 2008 #8
    Dont try and compare a 'colorful visual' to a really well made movie. Its no where near the same.

    If you read about a guy getting killed and I actually show you his head being blown off in full glory, its a huge difference.
  10. Jul 23, 2008 #9


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    I used to put an enormous amount of time into reading Tom Clancy novels. I've heard them compared to the TV show "24", though I never got into that show. Either way, that reading was just candy to me. Clancy's a great writer, but it was pure entertainment and nothing more. So I agree with cyrus - it isn't about watching tv vs reading, it is about what you watch or read that matters intellectually.
  11. Jul 23, 2008 #10
    That depends on how good your imagination is. A good writer can use vivid imagery and spend pages describing the gore and tragedy and pathos involved in the head getting blown off while the effect on TV basically comes from the split-second knee-jerk reaction to that. One of the major criticisms of American society is that the youth culture is full of violent video games that numb the sensation of watching someone get brutally hurt, leading kids to try the same thing in real life. Reading about violence instead of watching it enforces a clear barrier between ones imagination and reality while not at all inhibiting how "glorious" or "bloody" or "cruel" a scene can appear in your mind (thats reason 6).
  12. Jul 23, 2008 #11
    I dont know how true that is or not, but regardless..... whats that gotta do with TV being a waste of time?

    If you think TV is a waste of time your just not watching good things on TV. I like watching the travel channel where the go around the world. Or bizzare foods where he goes around the world eating all sorts of stuff. You cant put that into a book. Well you can, but its not the same.
  13. Jul 23, 2008 #12
    If there is an argument for reading and against TV (which, as others, I am not particularly convinced is a reasonable idea), I would see it most obviously in a majority of people saying "I had read the book, then I was disappointed about the movie".

    Disclaimer : I have no actual data or peer-reviewed paper to back up this claim.

    Now, the way I interpret that, is an elaboration of your point (2) above, and suggested (5) as well. Reading gives you more raw detailed information and less high level visual and sound information. It requires you to built in your own imagination characters who fit your perception of the story, who can evolve as the story goes on, and to whom you become close in a deep familiar sense : they will touch you in a different manner from a movie, where you meet a completely already built character, whose attitudes supposedly have been already chosen to suggest you his psychology, even the angles and lights as well as musical ambiance from which the character is seen should suggest an appropriate context.
  14. Jul 23, 2008 #13


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    I think reading puts you much more intimately in contact with the mind of the author. Prose and vocabulary and voice and descriptive emphasis paint the perspective that the author intends and over which they have control. Yes, you supply your own experience to paint many of the details and put your own specifics to the gloss of the words used, but writers express things as they perceive them. And I think the writing puts their experience of it into a framework of your experience, and makes it yours too. I think that it is a more personalized collaboration kind of thing between reader and author.
  15. Jul 23, 2008 #14
    Yes, this is all true. But it does not make TV a waste of time. Its simply DIFFERENT. This is why its a different medium, it has a different EFFECT.

    Dammit, someone posted a link a while back of non stop fast motion film of a city at night with music that was really nice and now I cant find it for the life of me. Thats one perfect example of what a book cant do.
  16. Jul 23, 2008 #15


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    In general the argument that the content of either medium is a significant variable in the debate. But under the assumption of relatively equavalent content I would argue the following.

    Reading requires user interaction. Staring at the text is passive and does not become reading until the reader processes the words and constructs a mental image of the ideas being conveyed. A direct consequence of this is that the reader ends up critically evaluating the information as it comes in. Watching television, on the other hand is largely regarded as a passive experience, as a much larger portion of the processing is performed for you.

    Television is restricted to sight and sound (although this includes narration). Literature has the ability to convey succinct information about all the senses.

    Televsion relys heavily on the skill of actors to convey emotions and feelings. With good literature, the reader has the opportunity to delve into the minds of the characters, and experience the world on a much more personal level - drawing on the characters' past experiences, hopes and fears.

    So much of what's on television these days strikes me as an assault on my attention - to the point where content seems secondary to whether or not I'm physically watching. Books of course, are guilty of this to an extent as well, but with high-definition images and sounds, television just hits a lot harder.
  17. Jul 23, 2008 #16
    I think two of the largest differences are that books require more imagination and books allow for more thought.

    With television, you are receiving a continuous stream of consciousness. While it is possible to pause, slow down, speed up, or replay parts of a television program, it is rare that someone will do it. It is also easy to "half-watch" television while doing something else.

    You can read, reread, slow down, speed up, skip over and otherwise absorb a book in a personal way that is difficult to do with television. Ten minutes of Apocalypse Now are watched the same amount of time that ten minutes of Dude, Where's my Car? But you can read something profound slowly (and reread difficult sections) while speed reading through pulp fiction or an instruction manual.
  18. Jul 23, 2008 #17


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    Reading is definitely a more active thing generally, though I think television viewing has some untapped potential to require more active engagement of the mind. As it stands now, though, it's a lot easier to tune out the TV and a lot easier to simply switch back and forth between channels, passively absorbing images without even telling what's going on half the time. It's the ideal ADD activity.

    I'm not going to totally crap on the TV, though. Shows have been getting better. The Wire was the first I would say actually had the depth and scope of a great novel and there was no way you could passively watch that if you wanted to have any idea what was going on. Watching sports on television beats reading about them, too, although it doesn't beat watching them live or actually playing.
  19. Jul 23, 2008 #18


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    I didn't express a value judgment as to which is better. Obviously there are things that each medium can express with greater precision. In fact a book is very weak at expressing certain spatial concepts with words alone, the more explicit and ordered the details required, the more of a challenge it is to express, and for the reader to keep all straight until the picture is complete. Or describing a song with words when the experience of the real song is more compact in its effect.

    I was merely describing a strength of reading words that I value.

    Btw, is this the movie you were talking about?


    It's quite good I think.
  20. Jul 23, 2008 #19
    No this is about 5 mins long some guy did with a Nikon in (I think) La.
  21. Jul 23, 2008 #20
    I don't like to do mental work when I am taking break from my work :shy:

    I like to watch movies in different language with English subtitles. I really love listening to those characters.

    I think computer > reading & tv

    I neither watch tv nor read anything for leisure.
  22. Jul 23, 2008 #21
    I'll mention it anyway... I'm a big fan of OULIPO and constrained writing. I do not believe Life: A User's Manual for instance could ever be made into a movie, or a even a series of movie, not because it is intrinsically impossible, but because it is too difficult to be worth the trouble.

    Just don't cut yourself from the richness of the world of literature out there, just as it would be sad to cut yourself from movie production altogether :smile:
  23. Jul 24, 2008 #22
    When was the last time you paused the television to think about what you just watched?

    When was the last time you put down a book for a minute to think about what you just read?

    The television is a continuous stream of another's thoughts and imagination.

    The book is an intermingling of your thoughts and imagination with the author's.
  24. Jul 24, 2008 #23


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    In case you haven't seen it Koyaanisqatsi is worth the time it takes to watch it. It's the first one I always think of in the genre.
  25. Jul 24, 2008 #24
    Content wise, a book has more value. You can certainly watch a show on the history channel about the civil war but it is highly unlikely that you will get nearly as much information out that hour show as you could from reading a book. You can get more and better information reading newspapers than watching tv news.
    TV has pretty much always been a medium that primarily focuses on sensationalism. So we have many a television show with pretty people in pretty places with nice cars and nice houses and a story line and dialog that even a pulp writer would cringe at. Worse yet are the many reality TV shows. People sitting on the couch watching other people live their lives. Not very close to reality I guess until they have one about people sitting on the couch in front of a TV.
    There are positive aspects of television. I'm not saying it's all pure crap. I'm just saying that reading is often going to be a more valuable use of time than watching TV.
  26. Jul 24, 2008 #25


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    By watching BBC, one can learn new vocabulary as well as world events. You won't get that by reading manga.

    (That was a devil's advocate position to take; I'm not a TV watcher myself, not more than 3 hours a month or so.)
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