A short exposition of some thoughts on the debate reading versus watching as a mean of learning and gaining information, in a digital age when time moves faster than we can comprehend.
In one of the previous evenings, while slowly reading Susan Sontag’s “On Photography” (which you will remember from my last year reward system post), I happened to reach this passage:
To quote from a movie is not the same as quoting from a book. Whereas the reading time of a book is up to the reader, the viewing time of a film is set by the filmmaker and the images are perceived only as fast or as slowly as the editing permits.Susan Sontag, On Photography (1977)
This hit me on the spot.
Not so many days ago I was arguing with my colleagues that the need and habit of reading is coming back although we are living a video era. Going further back in time, one week or so, I was reading some comments on a post in a photogrammetry group. And several members were admitting that they would rather read a tutorial than watching and following a video version of it. Suddenly I had a revelation because deep down I was feeling the same but just couldn’t voice it out. Going on the same line, in this post, at some point, I was making fun of the fact that I was constantly pausing a video tutorial in order to manage to learn and do the specific tasks. Then kept rewinding back. And so on. Which was a little frustrating.
Where is ALL this coming from?
Don’t get me wrong. I still believe video format is very useful and important. But as of late, I feel like the major players in the creative content platforms are trying too hard to push video content. It is a competition now between these major platforms that is solely focused on video formats. I believe that even the visibility algorithms are tailored today so that video content has priority to others (say photos). By setting the rules of the game so that only one format or another will get ensure a creator’s visibility, just to pump into this platform competition, social media giants are imposing creation and marketing format trends and limits. But this is nothing new.
Before starting this post I did a little research, knowing that I’m not the only one having these thoughts about reading versus video. No wonder, there were a lot of articles, some of them quite old from the rising of Youtube, that were already posing this issue of video overtaking the written content. I’m gonna sketch some of the main ideas I found in these articles, many of them resonating with my own thoughts.
There are many debates around this subject out there. We do live in the most polarized times, so everything becomes debatable, every opinion gathers supporters or even fanatics. While this discussion is also part of a debate so I would like to state beforehand what is the subject: which information format is better: video format or reading format. And by “reading format” I mean all kind of reading: books, articles, papers to blogs, social media educational posts, printed or digital. So it is not about digital versus print but video versus reading. Let’s hit it!
Growing up into the adulthood along with the development of technology (starting up with the dial-up Internet and magnetic tape storage for video games) I always sided with the new ways of education. The digital way. Involving “The Computer” into the learning pipeline. Videos were not a thing during my primary and high-school years (). But I could only dream of the advantages of having video lessons instead of reading school books or listening to bored or disconnected teachers and professors. Well, that time came eventually. Today the sources of information on any kind of subject is literally unlimited. In digital form. And with much of it in video format. Platforms like Youtube hosts thousands and thousands of tutorials, lectures, podcasts on anything you would want to learn. There are other platforms dedicated to this type of learning, mostly using video formats as well.
So, what’s the problem?
There might not be a problem. Yet. But as I wrote above, now the main social media platforms are forcing the content creators to use video formats in order to maintain visibility (to their own fans). While blogging and other written content is seemingly overshadowed or straight morphed into video formats.
Both reading and videos are just means of gaining information. It still depends on you how you assimilate that information. It also depends on you which format of information is more appealing to you.
Reading is an active process. There are different strategies for reading in order to better comprehend and understand the information. It is a slower process, but results in a good retention of information. You have total control on your pace of assimilating the information, the speed of reading. It is objective, more accurate and carefully composed.
Watching videos, or rather the watching process, is passive. It requires no effort to watch. A first advantage is that a large amount of information can be gained in a much shorter time span. This is due to the fact that the brains like to visualize. It is easier and faster for us to understand or learn complex things if we watch a visual explanation, a diagram or an animation. But the downside of this process is that what you are watching is mostly subjective. A creator’s visual perspective. Like movie characters that might look different than what you visualized while reading the original book the movie was based on. The creator also imposes his own pace. You are gaining the information at the speed set by the creator.
Drawing a line, let’s see what clear advantages each format has
Reading expands your imagination and creativity. If you want learn and retain information for a longer time, read. If you are seeking long term improvement, read. A reading material has a major advantage: it has contents! This way you can easily and faster seek your desired content or subject within the material. As stated before, videos present the creator’s perspective, while reading makes you imagine all the details and create the world. You can read at your own speed. Another interesting fact is that 6 minutes of reading cand reduce stress levels by 68%, while a cup of coffee with 54% or walking with 42%. Reading has also a lasting effect after the reading process is over.
What videos are doing much better and faster than books is … to entertain. It is much easier to mix learning and entertainment in video format. With videos, you can understand much easier difficult topics. And much faster. Usually we find ourselves under the time pressure and we have to gain a whole lotta information in a very short time span. Videos can do that for us. Another important aspect is the cost. Most of the video information available today is mostly free. Not all. But a lot. With books, is a bit more expensive. Excluding the exceptions. And excluding the fact the even we think watching YouTube might be free, we are still paying in other ways (plaguing ads and behavior data).
Science tells us that watching videos (as a daily routine) contributes to the effect of instant gratification (while books have much slower gratification process). And it also disrupts the sleep cycle. Another study states that students comprehend better a written page of information than the equivalent in video.
Some sort of a conclusion
After this short research on this topic I realized that I only scratched the surface of this subject. An important take from all this is that both reading and watching videos are important in the process of learning. Reading is fundamental for advanced long term learning while watching videos can speed up the comprehension of complex subjects. Most of the times, videos can help you breakthrough tough nutshells in your learning process. But I would emphasize that totally replacing reading with watching videos as a past time activity might have complex consequences on our future personal development and our mental health.
So, what are your thoughts? Is the reading habit endangered by the instant gratification and the ease of access of watching videos? You can post your comments below.
Have a great week, pick an awesome book and expand your imagination!