Can Reading Make You Smarter?

Courtesy of Fast Co. Design.

Courtesy of Fast Co. Design.

From what I’ve read (he, he) reading and comprehending are two different things. “When you read you don’t absorb exact letters and words and then interpret them later. You anticipate what will come next. The more previous knowledge you have, the easier it is to anticipate and interpret” (Weinschenk, 33). In order to consider how reading can make us smarter, I chose to distinguish different aspects of reading.

I might assume that most of us have a desire to read with the intent of gaining knowledge. One aspect about reading is that it’s dependent on the moment, mood, mindset, environment and type of reading, at the time that we engage in it. We may not always be focused during one moment as we would during another moment. Reading in a printed book versus reading online might also change our reading behavior. As Nicholas Carr attests in his article, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, “And what the ‘Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles” (Carr). Since these factors can create inconsistency, our retention or comprehension can suffer in the process.

Another aspect is, what if we end up reading too many books of the same genre? Logically, we become smarter in one specific area, but neglect to broaden our knowledge base in different subject content. Ironic as graduate students, don’t you think? I also have to account for people that have the ability to retain more information and read less than those that read more but retain less. Without remembering what we read, reading is of little value other than becoming good at reading.

The type of language (technical, foreign or internal) also affects how well we interpret, comprehend and retain information. For example, I once read a book that was interpreted from German and interpreted from an internal language (philosophy). It occurred to me upon reading Martin Heidegger’s 1927, Being and Time, that I was having to reread sentences over and over in order to comprehend Heidegger’s theory. Eventually, I began to take notes, grew bored, slightly confused and realized that I might struggle with the remainder of the book. I stopped halfway and months later, grabbed it from the bookshelf. However, it was the time in between reading Being and Time that allowed for the content to sink in, to reflect, and to apply to everyday situations.

Did Heidegger’s book expand my knowledge base and therein make me smarter? Yes and no. To a marginal degree, I gained a different perspective of what it is to exist or to be in the state of Dasein. Personally or professionally, I’ve reflected on what I gained from reading Being and Time, yet it has served more for personal reflection as opposed to transferring to the professional realm. You’ll notice that I haven’t bothered discussing the content of the book in great detail, since I lost interest with finishing it.

Perhaps other questions to ponder about the act of reading, are:
1. Shouldn’t reading be engaging?
2. What do I expect to gain by reading?
3. How much do I expect to retain from reading?
4. Is the act of learning more satisfying than the act of reading?
5. How focused am I when I read? Is it consistent?

Works Cited:

Carr, Nicholas. Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. July 2008. The Atlantic Magazine. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

Weinschenk, Susan M. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, Peachpit. 2011. 242.