Reading Books vs. Searching on Google

By vijay on October 13, 2010 — 3 mins read

I have always been a fan of spending long reading hours at libraries. I used to spend a lot, I mean really _a lot_ of time at the Central Library in Hyderabad (India) reading all sorts of non-fiction books. But as I grew old, life caught up with me and in the growth of digital age with google everywhere, contributed to loss of my good old habit of reading book from cover to cover. Recently though, I got my library subscription and picked up where I left. And I started reading books again. In my defense, I didn’t stop read books altogether, but the books were only about computer programming, software projects etc.

If you have read any programming books they have a similar boring pattern of beginning with hello world to appendices on how to setup install, except of course the fantastic why the lucky stiff‘s creations.  And once you read one book, you can pretty much predict all other books – just like bollywood movie plots. But I figured that my lateral thinking and cognitive ability to look at life in different perspective started to become almost next to nothing. As a programmer I live in my own small world like every other computer professional. Wolfram|Alpha thinks only 2.37% of US workforce work are computer professionals, so extrapolating to the entire world, I guess it will be pretty insignificant.

Anyway, the point is I was too wrapped up in my field of work to notice the amazing knowledge out there in other fascinating fields. If I get any question in my brain for brief flash of time about evolution, psychology, mathematics, physics and other plethora of subjects, google and wikipedia were helping out giving the direct answer to the question. But what I missed was a proper treatment of the subject and clear understanding of the context. So the digital age was helping to get the answers quickly, so I got the illusion of feeling empowered with knowledge while lacking the structural thinking or background knowledge to reach to that answer. This was kind of depressing.

I figured that this can be cured by reading books on different subjects. A random walk in the library aisles reminded me how much of knowledge was stored in those books. After finishing a couple of books I loaned from the library, I started to miss my old days of reading and learning in a structured way. Learning using google and wikipedia was more perforated and atomic than I thought. It provides answers to quizzes but it doesn’t provide any context for the answers. I was missing the “big picture” of the topic.

Information in the digital age has the illusion of perpetual availability, which was discouraging spending more time on learning more about the problem at hand. This is what I found out after reading a couple of books recently and comparing my understanding from the online resources. Of course, I’m sure that all or most of the knowledge and information is available online somewhere in fragmented form. But I still needed some one to group it into a coherent piece and explain it in staged step-by-step manner, which is what books are for. And books are more like conversation and I tend to sit down with it and discuss with myself while reading the book forming a better idea of concepts that sink into my brain.

I guess that Google was creating this illusion of availability of all the information on the finger tips, which was in fact making me lazy and end up with half-baked understanding of life, universe and everything. Or may be I’m just getting old.

Image Credit: David Orban

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