When do we need to stop reading?

Each week, Symposium Magazine invites an author to expand on his or her essay. This week’s guest blogger is Prof. Lutz Koepnick of Vanderbilt University.

In earlier centuries, scholars were often quite concerned about people, in particular young females, devoting too much of their time to reading. Stimulating the imagination, books were seen as something that distracted the individual from work, order, efficiency, and discipline—from understanding and assuming one’s proper role in society. Silent reading escaped parental control. It enabled the reader to wander into uncharted and possibly dangerous territories.

Today we hear similar arguments about the Internet. But no one seems to complain anymore that students and young adults may read too much. And yet, text is all around us today. It wants something from us on ubiquitous screens, social network, blogs, signs, posters, and billboards.

Amid the urban flood of text and print, occasional self-imposed bans on reading may have the power to open our eyes and senses to what is around us again. They can serve as panacea to today’s excesses of text consumption and re-teach us the art of perusing the particular features of a face, a landscape, or a building, the figures human and non-human objects write into space without being recorded by some machine.

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