There are many reasons I read.
Sometimes I read for action. I want some new piece of knowledge that will change my behavior in some way. I might read about a programming problem I'm struggling with and try a new strategy as a result.
Other times I read for entertainment. I want to consume something exciting, that defies my expectations. I might read a science fiction novel and not act any different as a result, but be thoroughly entertained.
Sometimes I read just to be right. I want to take in information that validates my understanding of the world. I might read an article about the failings of the trump presidency, learning nothing new, but feel entirely validated for voting against him.
I observe that other people read for similar reasons.
In the last 40 years, it seems that the amount of time we spend consuming media for each of the above reasons, has shifted.
We spend more time consuming to feel right, and less time consuming for action.
Neil Postman has a book "Amusing Ourselves To Death" about this. He proposes that we can score media using a number called "information to action ratio". This measures the amount of information we take in vs. the amount of action that results. When we read an instruction manual, this ratio is very low. There is not a lot of information and a lot of action we will take. When you watch international news on CNN, the ratio is probably pretty high— you're probably not gonna hop over to another country and do something about the thing you just saw.
When the ratio is high we're not reading for action, which means we're either reading for entertainment or righteousness.
40 years ago we started shifting from action focused consumption to entertainment focused consumption. Neil Postman’s book (published in the 80’s) was about this.
In the last 10 years I think we've gone from entertainment to righteousness.
If Postman was to write his book today I think he'd title it "Being Right to Death"
I'm not completely sure how or why this happened. I'm guessing social media had something to do with it. I'm also guessing that the slow, continuing demise of organized religion had something to do with it.
The most popular books in the world continue to be religious texts, but in the developing world that lead is narrowing.
Media, whether mass or fringe is filling the void left when there is no religion to tell you you're right.
The printing press was key in the rapid spread of modern religions. Social media is like the printing press gone mad, enabling the dissemination of thousands of different bibles.
I suppose there's nothing really wrong with this— I like to feel right as much as the next guy. However, it is dangerous when we mix up righteousness focused consumption and action focused consumption. If we're consuming to be right, but then attempt to take action based on what we read, we end up as zealots, acting in blind faith while ignoring real world feedback.
I suspect that some of our political challenges in the US are due to this. What do you think?