The driver for writing this post, on the value of books, came from becoming the book club chair at my company. This topic has been done to death, so I’m going to take some different angles and write this with young professionals in mind.
Case #1: Are newsfeeds your primary touchpoints to the outside world? Then you, my friend, are in a filter bubble. The benefits of constant access to tailored content are easy to see but the drawbacks of personalization are more subtle. Your network of Twitter/Instagram/LinkedIn friends can create a shield of similar religious, political, and cultural views. Your 4 conservatives friends will be filtered out by Facebook’s algorithm when you don’t like their “Obamacare Isn’t Working” posts, and soon it’s like they won’t exist. As psychologist Meg Jay writes in The Defining Decade, our "Urban Tribe" of close friends is unlikely to challenge us, and instead likely to reinforce our worldview. Non-social news sites and even Google have begun internalizing your preferences, whether or not you are signed in. In 2014, you’ll rarely be exposed to the whole scoop on the internet.
Case #2: There’s a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” factor that make a 250-page book superior to its short-form internet rivals. I spent a lot of time under the perception that reading 10 articles from 5 websites could be better than 30 pages from a book. But do you remember anything from the articles you read this morning or last night? On the chance you remember one new factoid, will you now feel well versed on the topic and be able to contribute to a conversation? If the value of most articles is basically zero, you aren’t much better off multiplying that by 10. When you’ve read a book relating to the topic at hand, your contributions can be both substantive and well-reasoned. How often have you fallen down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia and Google searches, with ten tabs you eventually close in shame when you don’t have the energy to get through it all? With a book on a topic, the author has organized the information for you and given you history, multiple angles and time to ponder when the book was closed. Those who make themselves start and finish something are usually happy they did, and will want to keep going.
Case #3: Books represent the crucial midpoint between fun and productive. A lot of us young professionals want to feel “on track” and that we’re working toward something besides what we’re doing from 9 to 5. Yet, if they only way to be on track is sit through online lectures on how to use the SQL Server or what Linux is, I would be the first to end up back on Facebook (or even worse, Buzzfeed). I firmly believe there’s a happy medium between textbooks and fun novels where the writing is both well-written and relevant, easy to read and enlightening. Switch by the Heath Brothers exists at this midpoint. The book’s subtitle is “How to Change When Change is Hard” offers data-driven advice that is equally applicable to work and life. I keep going back to advice like “tweak the environment – make the right behaviors a little easier and the wrong behaviors a little bit harder” and “spend more time scaling successes and less time dealing with problems” and the stories that accompany this advice. It brought me new worlds (it was amazing how researchers led poor Vietnamese communities to healthier and cheaper eating habits, or how they reduced the rate of accidents in hospitals), gave me complete and convincing arguments, and made me (someone who is really distraction-prone) not mind learning on the bus ride into school. Let's scale that success.