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Death of the Reader - Feature by Mukesh Rijhwani

A tete-a-tete with oneself reveals the answer to the question 'Why one should read?'

Holding a book in the hand and thinking, why am I reading this?

A Storizen Magazine Feature

Text by Mukesh Rijhwani

Dear Reader, THANK YOU for taking time out and stopping by. You know what; you’re going to end up being in one of the few smart people that walked on this planet. As per Microsoft’s recent study, “Humans now have an attention span shorter than that of a Goldfish”. The attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds and that of a human is 8 seconds. With great belief, I declare that by the end of the 21st century, my dear reader, your brain will be much more valuable and be much sought after. The scientist would invest their hard-earned money to bid for your brain because of the lines in your gray matters. Not to mention, the DNA strands that are responsible for your regular reading habits will leave a long trail. Your lineage, when selecting a partner, will have a massive pool of people to choose from.

Humans now have an attention span shorter than that of a Goldfish.

You might say, thanks, that’s flattering. All I do is read. Yes, you’re correct. You just read. With the “just reading”, you get a break from this broken world. With the “just reading”, you learn and hence sharpen your mind. With “just reading” you feel which asserts your individuality as a human being. Most importantly, you invest time and attention in yourself. Talking about time, I just have one line that is stuck with me from a very young age from the movie Tezaab -

“Time hota nahin hai, nikal na padta hai”. (PS: To translate, head over to Google.)

Coming to the attention span, you see you’re already ahead in the race, you have been reading for more than 16 seconds now. It is not a coincidence, that ‘skip ad’ button in YouTube video is visible after 5 seconds (much lesser than a human’s attention span). The technology giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix spend millions of dollars hiring PhDs to assist them in capturing an individual’s attention. Auto-play is one such invention. It is designed beautifully to keep us engaged for several hours. If you’ve used any of these or other platforms, you know what I am talking about. Every day is a big war to get your attention back from these platforms to the unfinished tasks like calling your mom, writing that story or narrating a bedtime story to your kid. Wait, am not predicting doomsday here, some of the companies have started taking the step in this direction, leading the front is Google. Google has recently announced ‘Digital Wellbeing’. (Not heard - Go Google it)

A few years ago, I read a study conducted in the US that on average a book is read only for the first 17 pages. Well hang on a minute, what does that mean? It means that an author spends few years thinking about the idea for the book then spends an average of 2 years writing the book. The book got rejections from, on an average, 17 publishers. Finally, the book finds its publisher. And only after 17 months, on an average, of its completion it gets published. The way publishing industry works, an author gets the first cheque only after 3-6 months. To summarize that, it takes, on an average of 4 years, from the moment an author sits down to write the first alphabet and receiving a cheque.

You might say, that’s not bad considering all an author has to do is sit down on the table and write. Naw, my dear read friend, that’s precisely is the toughest part. Let me describe one of an instance from my writing experience. Few years back, I had to write a 1000-word story for an online magazine. For the uninitiated, 1000 words mean 2 pages of a book. With the big software release at work, I spent most of my waking moments in office. At home, I just showed up to shower and sleep. With just 2 days for submission, I finally was done with the software release. Out of those 2 days, I slept off the first day to catch up on the sleep I missed.

As soon as I opened my computer to write my wifey asked me, ‘Did you bring the gift for the Kumar’s, we’re going to their place for lunch today. I hope you remember’. I replied, thinking on my toes, ‘I will go now and select one with the cool head’.

The final day I got up with the dream to write that perfect story to win the award for the storyteller for the year. It was Sunday; wifey cooked the yummy hot idlis for breakfast, a perfect start for the day. As soon as I opened my computer to write my wifey asked me, ‘Did you bring the gift for the Kumar’s, we’re going to their place for lunch today. I hope you remember’. I replied, thinking on my toes, ‘I will go now and select one with the cool head’. By the time I came back with the gift, it was time to get ready and leave, because they stayed on the opposite side of the city. It took us about 1.5 hours with a Sunday traffic. By the time we finished lunch and came back home it was 6 in the evening. I opened the laptop, my wifey requested, ‘Can you take girls out to play?’. The whole evening passed by and once the kids went to bed, it was 10 o'clock at night. I just had 2 hours to complete the story. You might say, 2 hours, 2 pages, not a big deal. I did think the same. When I switched on my computer, I felt tired. I went to make a cup of Indian tea for myself to keep me fresh for the next 2 hours. After 15 minutes, I was back at the desk. I had a couple of vague stories in my head but couldn’t decide which one for the next 15 minutes. The clock was ticking, and it was just 90 minutes to the deadline. At that moment, I realized it was my Dad’s birthday. Immediately, I dialed and spoke to him for few minutes. By the time, I came to my desk; it was just close to an hour left.

You might say, that’s not bad considering all an author has to do is sit down on the table and write. Naw, my dear read friend, that’s precisely is the toughest part. To have extreme focus, I wanted to put on my headphones. I headed to YouTube and selected the songs that I wished to listen while I wrote. I finally, put my first word on the fresh Microsoft word document and titled it as ‘Winning Story’, to keep my spirits up. Within few minutes of my writing, I realized this story is not coming out well. With doubts all over my brain cells, like a plague, I chucked the draft. With under 30 minutes, I started writing the other story.

Without thinking of the whole wide world, I punched on the keyboards frantically. I completed the story with impending 10 minutes. I had to edit the story grammatically andcheck on the word count. With 2 minutes remaining, I wrapped up the story in the best way possible adhering to the guidelines and hit the send button. I went to bed satisfied, that I completed the task. The next morning, I woke up with a call from the Online Magazine Editor, she praised me for the wonderful story and expressed that it is the best story she has read in a while however I am sorry to say, nothing of that sort happened, in fact, the story didn’t even got published in the online

So, the question remains, why one should make time to read? Since you’ve read this far, I am sure you have many reasons why you are an avid reader. And also, you wished that everyone on this planet do the same magazine. I was politely refused on the grounds of ‘too many good entries and they had limited space’.

Needless to say, I was devastated because I literally spent the cognitive power for the whole day, worrying about getting the story out when I should have enjoyed the time with my family and friends.

Just for a 2-page story. Imagine, an author, who has to face the similar challenges day in and day out to write a full 300-page novel. While writing, the author has to keep the fact in mind, that more than 50% of the readers, who bought the book with their hard earned money, will not read it beyond the first 17 pages. To add to this mix, consider the likes of IPL, Netflix series, and Indian Idol, they’re competing for the same resources - Your time and attention. I can give you one reason, if there are no readers (sorry reading on FB or a newspaper doesn’t count one as the reader), there won’t be writers. With no writers, we won’t have stories. With no stories, we won’t have interesting movies to watch or interesting books to read.

So, the only question now remains is, when to read? The clue to answering this question is in another one - When not to read?

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