You are the Books You Read and I Can Prove It

Curating what you read to curate your life

People today often opt to peruse digital news feeds rather than novels, or to lounge with their streaming subscriptions rather than with the words of a great author.

Books today have seemingly been thrust into the collective back burner of society.

There is of course a cause for this: the technology we use has become so advanced, brilliant, and easy to access that we cannot help but use it well and use it often.

Colorful smartphones and tablets and razor-thin laptops make for modern and alluring toys for each of us. It’s no wonder that books — bound, glued-together paper that, ignoring E-readers, have not changed form in centuries — are less in vogue than previously.

We have more options today than ever before — and the options are sleek and addicting and high-tech.

The question then comes to mind: what is happening to our minds if we are reading less books and replacing that time with, say, smartphone use?

The landscape of reading today

Reading words and language remains the primary mode with which we communicate, learn and digest information.

Language allows us to think — arguably our most important function as humans — and language is what we use in turn to articulate our thoughts to the outside world.

Language in, language out; input, output.

The landscape of reading has changed dramatically. We can examine the implications this has on the inputs and outputs of our thoughts and our language.

Whatever it is that you or I choose to look at, we participate in shaping of the reading landscape.

Never before has a society had access to information at this magnitude. Yet, a chunk of that material is garbage. Social media, fake news, rabbit holes of irrelevancy all take up far too much of our reading efforts than they deserve.

Our reading time today is dominated by new, digital inputs that were created in seconds and minutes (Tweets, news headlines, captions) rather months or years (long-form, narrative-structure journals and books).

This creates a fundamental issue of quality of input — the material we read — and output — mindset, perspective, channels of thought.

The information we take in shapes our ability to create ideas and to think, which manifest as patterns of speech and behavior, which ultimately define how we exist in the world.

Now, swap out books with whatever your actual primary source of reading may be — that would be social media for most millennials and Gen-X’ers— and then extrapolate for the thoughts, ideas, speech patterns, and behaviors that result.

Of course this is a crude thought experiment, but the principle is sound: the things you read determine who you are.

This happens whether you like it or not. It often happens unconsciously; we read low-quality information without even considering that it even could be low-quality to begin with.

(Has it been more than an hour since you scrolled through your Facebook or Twitter newsfeed, mindlessly perusing rather than intentionally looking for something?)

Curate your reading to curate your life

Once information and reading is framed in this manner, that to me is a reassurance. This means that we can have a say in what direction our mind develops in and for the thoughts we will have.

Recognizing that the quality of input (or lack thereof) will create an output of comparable standing should incentivize us all to curate the information we choose to read.

Curating information of course demands that, first, we become conscious of the information we ingest.

Scrolling through news feeds or social media is mindless inherently — we do not look for anything in particular, just something to pique our interest (or maybe just to appreciate the addictive aspects engineered into the device in our hand).

It scares me to even ask this question: what output does a mindless input lead to?

Start framing your time as inputs and outputs and see how that impacts your behavior. It can help push us to be more conscious of the times when we do mindlessly read and scroll. When you catch yourself taking in a low-quality input, make note of it and ask yourself the potential output that may follow.

Opting for a quality book rather than some lightning quick jolt of information is a way to shape your mind, thoughts, and behavioral manifestations for the better.

Take stock of your inputs to build a more intentional set of outputs.

You are what you read

More information today is available than any other point before us, and this will continue to be the case with every single day that passes. New articles, new videos, new Tweets, new captions, even new books are created and written at an unprecedented pace. And this will only increase.

With the daunting, ever-expanding volume of potential inputs available today, curating the things we read and being intentional about our inputs is even more salient.

Reading should be an intentional action, not a passive and absent activity.

And whether you realize it or not, you are what you read.

The information you take in, whether on purpose or by accident, informs your mind to a degree that we cannot even comprehend. Informational inputs directly impact our outputs into the world.

What do those outputs look like if they are informed by accidental or non-intentional inputs?

Things such as browsing the internet, mindlessly ingesting pop culture gossip, scrolling through your social media accounts every hour on the hour — what do these in turn manifest themselves as?

Actions such as these — low-quality inputs — are not usually done with purpose. They are a way to kill time, or even done out of habit rather than desire or enjoyment.

Think of the people in your life and their reading habits and inputs — do their thoughts and behaviors align with their usual inputs?

Do you know anyone who cannot put down their smart phone? What about someone who cannot put down a book? Now compare their behaviors, their outputs. Think about it.

Reading shouldn’t be something that happens on accident. It should be guided and directed with intention.

Taking a more deliberate approach to the information you read and take in can help create a more deliberate life. The outputs and behavioral manifestations you aim for can help guide what type of inputs you want to have in your life.

Often times we just go along with whatever sits before us and that’s our input for that moment. Next time this happens, take stock and really contemplate if that’s the input you want or need in your life at that particular moment.

Naturally, I’m not suggesting that every single thing in your life must be productive or conducive to an end-goal. Nobody exists like that. But maybe you can aim to be just a bit more selective about the things you let into your mind.

Those are what makes you who you are.

Put down your favorite device for just a moment extra. Pick up some good books from some good writers. Read fiction. Find a story that grips you and challenges you. Read things from different centuries.

And remember, you are what you read.

To end with a few quotes:

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read,” Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read,” Mark Twain

“By reading the minds of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle,” Kurt Vonnegut

Phil is a travel writer and editor. If you liked this article, you can see more of his ideas on his travel blog and Instagram.

Bestselling travel writer. Columnist. Author. USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

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