Is there any value in reading books now that you can find everything online?
That’s a question that has polarized the knowledge world for a while. One group predicts the end of books now that all information is available on the internet. The other group detests the prediction arguing that books are eternal.
Lets clarify the problem first. As in such debates, the core question gets so muddy that no one really knows what they are really arguing about. When we say books, its the old-fashioned hard-binded version that focuses on a single subject at length. That is what we are comparing with the astronomical quantity of information in internet addressing every possible subject.
Another clarification: when we say books, a physical version is equivalent to a soft copy like on Kindle. That is simply a question of different media addressing reading convenience and efficiency. The structure and nature remain the same. A book on Kindle stays a book.
So what’s my take: It is an invalid question. It should be declared irrelevant ab initio. It is a useless debate. What is being compared are two entities that have different objective, scope and structure. They don’t overlap hence there is no comparison. It is also not a debate between conservatism and modernity. It is simply a misguided attempt to compare two incomparable entities.
Books address a single subject at length with minimal distractions and variance. For example, “The Effective Executive” outlines the important of effectiveness of an executive and how to achieve it. Every analogy, anecdote, reference and conclusion is in support of the book’s objective. Any supplemental or divergent information is relegated to the footnotes and appendices. More importantly, a book addresses a subject in detail touching multitude of dimensions. In the end, the reader is expected to get a broad understanding of the subject at hand.
Reading a book is like taking a long walk as I mentioned in a previous post. It filters out distractions and lets you focus on the objective for a contiguous period of time. Both these core principles of time management apply to reading books as well. They have the same effect: you become more effective and productive.
Information online, typically in form of short articles is meant to capture your attention for a short time and give you a focused doze of some piece of information. The scope is small and so is the expected attention span of the reader. There are distractions in form of hyperlinks (embedded as well on the sides) and ads vying for the attention. Its common to start on an article and quickly hyper-jump to other places, soon forgetting where you started from.
Mind you there is nothing wrong with this internet model. That is an efficient way to quickly find what you are looking for or supplement your knowledge about something. However, it cannot be expected to provide you a detailed insight into subject as books do.
While reading online has added to my knowledge on subjects and keeps me updated , it has been the books that have added new dimensions to my knowledge. There has been hardly any good book that hasn’t carved a new path or made me think in a totally different way. Internet fails to do so. What it can do is to further add on those paths and dimensions.
So take the long walks – there is no substitute for those!