Consumption vs. Reading in the Age of Social Media

Book consumption

Ever since I joined Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, I’ve been fascinated by the book-related hashtags. There are glorious pictures of books and gigantic personal libraries. But what I wonder is: Are any of these books being read, or are they simply decoration for some sort of idealized reading life? (Which, ironically, is probably cannibalized by the time dedicated to crafting all these perfect pictures. Photo less, read more?)

I wonder about this because I’ve seen the same thing happen in my beloved board game hobby. Board gaming (in some circles) has become more about acquiring the latest hot games faster than anyone else. They sit on the shelves unplayed, but doggone it, it sure looks cool to post a pic on Instagram of your latest game haul. Or your recently redone game room, or your new game table, etc., all of which are rarely used.

There’s less playing going on and more making other people (who you do not know) think you’re actually playing. Which seems nuts to me, especially since it’s incredibly expensive to buy all these games that never get played. What happened to buying only what you would/could realistically play?

I fear that books are trending the same way. I see people cranking out dozens of perfectly framed shots every week, complete with a boatload of accessories and objects d’art to complement the books. Their libraries are huge and color coordinated. It’s a perfect world of books. But is there any reading actually going on?

I kind of doubt it. Even if the book posting is someone’s only job, it’s got to be close to full-time employment to set up these shots and shop for all the accessories. And that’s if they’re not doing it on the side and going to a regular job, as well. It doesn’t seem like such a lifestyle would be conducive to actually having much reading time.

Instead, what most of this book posting accomplishes is to glorify consumption. Buy it, display it, but never actually use it. And, in the process, make other people feel kind of bad that they don’t have the money/time to acquire and display all of those books. It’s all about getting more followers and winning some imagined “competition” than it is about enjoying what’s inside the covers of those books.

And that’s just sad. Because it’s what’s inside the book (or the game) where the real joy lies. Reading isn’t about the exterior of the book, it’s about what goes on inside the book and inside your mind when you read it. Simply photographing the book, no matter how awesome the picture may be, is no substitute for reading it. And I don’t think you get to call yourself a reader if your only interaction with books is to scarf up as many as possible and show them off for social media. That makes you a collector. Not a reader.

Don’t get me wrong: If collecting is your passion, by all means have at it. There are plenty of people who simply enjoy collecting books, games, and the like without ever actually opening them. Just don’t get collecting confused with reading or playing. They aren’t the same.

If you want to be a reader, you have to read. If you want to be a board gamer, you have to play. Writers have to write (posting pics of your computer in a coffee shop is not writing). Objects and experiences should be there to be loved and enjoyed, not simply photographed. A photo is a poor substitute for having actually done the thing in question.

And if you’re a reader who feels hopelessly outclassed or somehow “less than” because you don’t have a huge library, or special reading nook, or every book/galley/piece of author swag released in the last year, don’t sweat it. As long as you’re opening and enjoying the books you do have, you have nothing to feel badly about. There’s absolutely no shame in preferring reading to waging a social media competition. Read on!


(Photo courtesy of geralt)


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