Reading Should Never Be A Chore

Reading Should Never Be A Chore

I became more concerned with fleeting soundbites and less excited by everlasting words on a page.

Some time between discovering Netflix and receiving my first high school reading assignment, I stopped reading books. My priorities shifted from finding out the fate of Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin after their encounter with the Man with Red Eyes, to finding out what happened to Agent Scully after she was abducted by aliens.

I became more concerned with fleeting soundbites and less excited by everlasting words on a page.

I know I’m not the only person with this problem, and especially not the only millennial. Millennials grew up in the midst of a societal shift from page to screen, from VHS to DVD to streaming, from CD to MP3.

Now, there’s an incredible amount of information available, and we expect to get that information in five seconds or less. If we don’t, we check our wifi connection. So, if books can’t be read, processed and understood in five seconds, then what’s the point of reading them?

But it would be irresponsible to blame this problem solely on the habits of my own generation. It’s not really our fault, anyway.

Yes, we may have shorter attention spans, but that doesn’t mean we’re stupid – we just process information faster. When boring required reading in high school is added to the mix, we can throw reading for pleasure down the drain.

When I was a kid, I read books like my life depended on it. Nancy Drew was my hero, Esperanza Ortega was my inspiration and Charlie was my pen pal. I used bubble mint gum wrappers to mark my favorite quotes, and I mastered the art of dog-earing pages to the exact word I stopped reading at.

But my love for reading halted the moment I opened "Fahrenheit 451" the summer before my freshman year of high school. I’ve read the book a second time since then, and I can appreciate it in all of my adult-ness, but at 14 years old, I had no idea how I was supposed to interpret book burning and reading the Bible in its entirety on the train.

For the first time in my academic life, I felt dumb, unable to understand the material I was supposed to be understanding.

This got worse as I moved through required reading after required reading. Eventually, I just stopped reading books altogether. I wasn’t keeping up with "The Heart of Darkness" or "A Tale of Two Cities" in my World Literature class, and I barely opened "House of Mirth" or "Jane Eyre" in my AP English classes.

Somehow, I still managed to get good grades in those classes, but that’s beside the point.

My distaste for the books I was required to read in school translated into a distaste for books in general. At that point, books took too long to finish, weren’t as important as binging “The X-Files,” “Glee” or “Friends,” had words in them that I didn’t know and were difficult to fully understand.

But I can’t blame this problem on the high school system, either. The books they make us read really are important, anyway.

It was around this time in high school that I got my first job. I only worked about 12 hours a week, but my dramatic high school self-thought this excruciating schedule excused me from completing my required reading.

Instead, I scrolled through Tumblr or fell down Wikipedia rabbit holes. I was completely turned off by reading and turned on to my phone.

The phone issue hasn’t gone away. I wish I could read for pleasure more often, but I just don’t have time – this time for real. And that bothers me.

I’m 19 years old. I shouldn’t be scrambling to fit time into my schedule to read a chapter of a good book simply because I feel the need to watch 13 YouTube videos in a row or try to beat another level of "Best Fiends" in between homework assignments.

But I can’t blame this problem on having a job, a lot of homework and an iPhone, either. Everyone else has the same problems, anyway.

I don’t know if there is any real solution to this problem. Maybe we can all take a cue from Andrew Sullivan and put our phones away for a bit, and we might end up finishing the book that’s been sitting on the nightstand for three months. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to read every now and then. Baby steps.
Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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Your Brain Is More Than A Bag of Chemicals

In David Anderson's 2013 Ted Talk, the Caltech professor discusses the downfalls of mental healthcare in our society, opening a discussion to wider societal issues.


David Anderson, in his Ted Talk "Your Brain is Not a Bag of Chemicals" dives into the world of treatment for psychiatric illnesses, of scientific research, and of fruit flies. His goal, to explain the flaws in current treatments of mental illnesses and present how this downfalls could be resolved is clear throughout the talk. Through presenting his research, and speaking of novel contributions such as the actual discovery of emotion in fruit flies, Anderson displays the flaws in mental healthcare and demands more of the scientific world to resolve these downfalls.

As Anderson explains, the traditional view of mental illnesses is that they are a chemical imbalance in the brain. He states, "As if the brain were some kind of bag of chemical soup filled with dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine." He explains the difference for typical treatments of physical ailments versus psychological ailments. As he describes it, physical ailments presented to a physician will lead to blood tests, biological assays, and various other factors to gather information about what is going on in the body so that a treatment plan can be well-suited to that issue. However, for psychological problems, the patient is often handed a questionnaire to assess the issues. These questionnaires, as he suggests, are insufficient in understanding the complexities that surround mental illnesses.

Of medication prescribed for mental illnesses, Anderson states, "These drugs have so many side effects because using them to treat a complex psychiatric disorder is a bit like trying to change your engine oil by opening a can and pouring it all over the engine block. Some of it will dribble into the right place, but a lot of it will do more harm than good." Anderson uses the example of dopamine and the model organism of fruit flies to explain this concept. He explains how in certain illnesses, such as ADHD, there is not a complete understanding of why there are features of learning disabilities and hyperactivity. Without this understanding, the treatment of just increasing the amount of dopamine in one's system is lacking.

Anderson suggests that pharmaceutical companies and scientists should do more research to not only discover the disturbances of neural pathways, which tend to be the real cause of mental illnesses, but to also develop new medications that attempt to resolve these specific pathways and specific receptors, rather than simply increasing the amount of a certain neurochemical. These new medications could and do revolutionize the way that mental illnesses are treated, and the efficacy in their treatment.

As a society, there is a general view of mental illnesses that varies greatly from the view of physical illnesses. Anderson, without directly discussing it, acknowledges this exact problem. He discusses the differences in treatments, but also the lack of resources that are put in to truly understand how to better treat mental illnesses as disturbances in neurophysiological components. Without, as a society, acknowledging and respecting mental illnesses for what they are, we are short-changing the 25% of the world who is directly impacted by these illnesses, and the countless loved ones who stand by those impacted. A shift needs to occur, and the research and ideas that Anderson presents are a wonderful scientific starting point for these shifts. However, if we as a society do not support the principles behind this science, do not support the concept that mental illness is much more than just being a little emotionally reactive, we are doing a disservice to the majority of the population.

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