Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Great Divide

Artist : Andre Martins de Barros

The average American reads, on average, 1 book a year, but watches 4,5 h of TV per day. (1)

You can safely bet that the time spent on the Internet follows a similar trend.

And when people do read, what do they elect to feed their minds with?

News Junk Food: newspapers and other deliverers of useless and pessimistic information. Quit reading the paper. If something is important, other people will rapidly tell you. Case in point: when 9/11 happened, did you have to wait to learn about it in the next morning newspaper? I didn't think so.

Anyways, 80% of people don't read newspaper articles past the first paragraph.

Among these functional illiterates, there always has been a rare minority of avid learners, what Mike Lipkin calls adaptive navigators. Curious people always striving to improve themselves by knowledge acquisition.

Until very recently, looking for specific and interesting knowledge in palatable form whas a full time job. If you wanted to read anything else than the current fads and bestsellers, you had to venture out of major bookstores and go treasure hunting into the all too rare giant libraries of major cities or into small unknown and dusty bookstores. Last time I was in Europe, I remember scavenging the booksellers of La Seine in Paris for worn out books of Kessel, Cendrars and Monfreid.

In order to avoid bad or average books (and thus save valuable time), you had to ask friends (in person, in a letter or over the phone...) for recommendations and you had to note everything on a scrap of paper.

But now, with the rise of Internet, it has never been easier to find arcane knowledge with a few keystrokes. There are forums of experts in every field you can imagine. There's and its billions of titles, there's eBay, Craigslist and other online marketplaces.

Looking for an out of print french book published in in 1937? Try an online search engine to peek into the inventory of 560 booksellers with over 3 million second hand books.

Knowledge is everywhere, it is within easy reach and it inexpensive.

These are good times for knowledge hungry people!

What that means is that the knowledge gap between active knowledge seekers and passive ordinary people is getting bigger and bigger everyday.

It has been said that if you read a book a week in a specific field, within 5 years, you'll be a national expert on that subject.

When people toiled the fields or pushed levers on an assembly line, the impact of that knowledge gap would have been different. But in an era like ours, where people are paid for their knowledge and brainpower, and where sound decision making is becoming critical in an ever complexifying World, this is something with HUGE consequences.

There's a widening gap between the have and the have not, and the only way to stand on the good side of that canyon is to massively feed your brain with interesting things.

What have you read lately?


The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who doesn't know how to read. - Mark Twain

(1) A note about video content: I know, I know, there are fantastic learning opportunities offered by TV and other video formats. We all love Discovery Channel. However, most TV programs and video content is - how could I put it? - less intellectual. Moreover, your mind works very differently when watching video (passive) than when reading (active). The former favors surface and emotional reactions while the latter favors abstract reasoning and multi-layered analysis.


Anonymous said...

Très intéressant. J'aime bien le passage suivant
''It has been said that if you read a book a week in a specific field, within 5 years, you'll be a national expert on that subject.''
On devrait essayer ;)

Malaka said...

I couldn't agree more, vieille branche !!!
And reading has many more virtues than increasing your knowledge - one of which, it's also a cheap way to travel.

Let me know if you need any out of print books - got my addresses in Chocolateland !!!

A tantôt

Jean-Michel Ghoussoub said...

@Malaka: Adieu vielle branche! Que devient Ze Great Malaka of all Malakas? Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I got your address. Will land in Nyon before the end of the summer. If you can find (At a decent price), the first book of Blaise Cendrars, published under the name Frederic Sauser, that would be phenomenal!