Reading Books Makes You Smarter, Richer and Surprisingly Healthier

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Science confirms what many already suspect. Reading a book held in your hands is an entirely different experience than reading the same book on a screen.


I love blogs. I love them so much that I built an entire online business off of one dinky blog. But there’s no blog in the world that can ever compare to a book. You can’t wrap a blog up and give it as a gift.

I’ve been on a particular Amazon binge recently, stocking up my shopping cart for the holidays. (Is it weird that I buy myself Christmas presents?) I’ve been getting so many heavy packages delivered to my door that it got me thinking: “Why am I choosing a book over the easy download?”

It’s the object. The artifact. The fact that what I’m holding is a physical representation of years and years of toil and synthesis.

 

Reading a lot of books is prerequisite to being a great business owner, or great at anything. They’re a cheap investment with a potentially infinite ROI. A world-class expert might work for 20+ years to figure something out, completely devoting her entire life to answering one particular question, which you get for the cost of lunch.

Even more thought-provoking, I realized, the physicality of the experience helps me remember. I have a hard time remembering which books I’ve read on Kindle or iPad, let alone their content. I can’t remember a single blog post title I’ve read. Not one. So I started doing some digging to see if there was any evidence to support my experience of what we’ll call, physical vs digital.  Here are my findings.


1. Print improves comprehension and retention.

In recent years there have been tons of studies comparing the pros and cons of reading something digitally or in print. In almost all studies the results show that “screen-based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one-time reading, non-linear reading and reading more selectively.”

This leads to lower comprehension of the actual material read and also a decreased ability to retain the information. Learning the price of a shirt is not something we necessarily want or need to commit to long-term memory. The content of a book, however…a little different. In comparison studies show that “the ‘real’ experience that physical media provides means it’s better at becoming part of memory.”

Now I feel validated! This is exactly my experience. Essentially what the research shows is that if you want to understand and retain information, you should pick up a book.

But it gets even better.


2. Print is better for your eye health and sleep cycle.

Another benefit of reading physical media instead of digital media is the effect it has on your health. In a study out of Harvard, scientists “found the body’s natural circadian rhythms were interrupted by the short-wavelength enriched light, otherwise known as blue light, from electronic devices.”

Blue light has been proven to to suppress melatonin, which impacts your circadian clock and increases alertness when you should be winding down. Scientists note that “the use of light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime is a concern because of the extremely powerful effect that light has on the body’s natural sleep/wake pattern and how that may play a role in perpetuating sleep deficiency.”

Let’s be real. As an entrepreneur, work never really ends. As a daily practice, we need to learn how to turn “off.” Reading a physical book is a great mechanism to encourage that.


3. Print provides a sense of progress.

Some benefits of reading print media over digital are more emotional than scientific. Think about the last time you read an important book. Do you remember an acute sense of pride as you flipped the last page of the book?

One of the clear psychological benefits of physical media is the sense of progress we feel when flipping the pages back. When you read on paper you can sese with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing and shrinking on the right. You have the tactile sense of progress, which just feels awesome. It’s an experience. A journey.

It’s not just the sense of pride. A book provides a reminder of your intellectual journey, and gives you something to display in your office or home that represents your interests. What we keep on our bookshelves and coffee tables are representations of our personalities. We talk about them, we look at them, we reference them. They help others get to know us better and are often great conversation starters.