Speeding Up And Slowing Down: A Reason For Reading Books

10/19/2011 08:24 am ET | Updated Dec 18, 2011

"Opinionated" is a HuffPost High School column where a top debater from the National Forensic League argues one side of an issue.

It's rare that anyone ever strolls into school after finishing a great book and proudly proclaims the beauty of the novel, the art, the language, or the prose -- the notable exception being, of course, the latest Gossip Girl or perhaps one of Nicholas Spark's new sob stories. At best, conversation is supposed to revolve around last night's football game or Jersey Shore; we've been taught to emulate these figures since we were toddlers because, in the world of television, the outrageous is exalted and what is eye-popping or tacky has indispensable shock value. It is impossible to open a novel and find the same immediate satisfaction, and, consequently, we as a society have stopped valuing writing -- or, for that matter, language. The rise of the Internet has brought along with it a need for speed, instant gratification, and with this need for satisfaction, we've abandoned difficult reading because, frankly, allowing our minds to ease into decay through an episode of Spongebob is easier and faster; the arts of elevated language and semantics are functionally dead, killed and buried by a new, elite form of conversation, text-speak, where, instead of laughing heartily in actuality, one is expected to simply say "LOL" or where grammar in emails is a sign of snobbishness.

But what is difficult and time-consuming is important. With the death of reading comes the death of thought; the two are inextricably linked. A man who cannot read has lost perhaps the most vital way for information of experience to be conveyed to him, and consequently, his own ability to articulate experience is diminished. Even those who can read and who feel that literature speaks to something beyond the text, to something fundamentally human, need reading. It is not enough to appreciate literature if one does not experience the book. The work and time spent reading Moby Dick is not lost -- and that is the most common misconception about high art today -- because there is beauty to wasting time. A society that finds itself obsessed with speed, efficiency, and instantaneous satisfaction is one that is incapable of understanding things in the larger scope, too myopically focused on minutia that they miss out on the big picture.

And so I take time to read good books. I refuse to SparkNote; I write short stories in the hopes that they will one day be read; and Disney Channel and MTV are currently blocked -- these are important things for all of us to do. The first step, I believe, is recognizing that we do indeed have a problem with technology and that we really do live in a world where literature is frowned upon as a waste of time. Once that's done, it's our responsibility to shut off the TV once in a while, shut off our phones, and crawl into bed with a classic -- Vonnegut's a good fit -- and enjoy the art of slowing down.