Prompt pleasure and the reader

Christopher Farai Charamba Column Name
Instant gratification is a feature of 21st century society. It can be defined as the desire to experience pleasure or fulfilment without delay or deferment. Psychologists argue that there are a variety of reasons that cause people to want to experience pleasure immediately.

In the modern era, the manner in which people live has simply made it easier and faster for them to complete. Consider that before where it would take weeks or perhaps even months to send a letter from Harare to Hong Kong, one can communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world via the touch of a button.

So many other inventions and innovations have resulted in people gaining so much with little effort required. Instant is a buzzword, particularly in retail, that pushes one to believe that they can get what they want, when they want but also that they have more time to do other things.

One thing that isn’t instant though is reading. The consumption of books is dependent on how fast the individual reader actually is. There are alternatives to ease the reading experience, like audiobooks, but they too take time and are dependent on how fast the reader in the recording was going.

Film adaptations of books are perhaps the only way one can instantly get the plot of a particular book. They usually leave a lot of the parts out and readers are likely to complain numerous times over about how that was not the way the story was supposed to go, but they do a decent enough job.

One is made to wonder whether the era of instant gratification has made books less attractive for people. It certainly takes a few hours, days or weeks for readers to get through a single book.

At times one can find themselves un- able to take their eyes away from a book while, on the other hand, if the book is not as engaging as would be hoped, the instant gratification monster forces one to look for something else and so some books never finish being read.

An argument can be made that if the book is interesting enough one receives the gratification they are seeking and so can be glued to it for hours on end.

But with all the many distractions and alternative forms of entertainment, how do books fair as a pastime for individuals? The answer to this is perhaps subjective, but on the surface books do remain popular. Writers still write, publishers still publish, bookstores – physical and digital – still sell and readers still read.

Reading is after all a habit and if nurtured correctly can become second nature to an individual. Reading also comes with its own specific pleasures, one of which is the ability to escape, through words, into one owns mind, envisioning the world that the author would have created.

There is also no substitute for the knowledge obtained in books. The history of the world, albeit in most cases a Eurocentric version of that history, is contained in books. But even before the whites, many civilisations committed their accounts of experiences to paper, papyrus and even stone.

In a world where people are searching for quick wins, one is of the opinion that reading could be used as a way to teach patience. Unless you are a speed reader and can consume hundreds of pages in a short space of time, it will certainly take a number of hours to get through a 400-page book.

Having the patience to do so requires a modicum of discipline too as there are far more words in 400 pages than there are in a 140-character tweet.

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