Thursday, 12 September 2013

I Read, Therefore I Am

iPad in Bed

What is the meaning of life?
That’s probably the question most often raised by people on a quest to boast depth. It is also, as my colleague Richard Dawkins likes to point out, a clear case for a badly raised question. It is a question that already assumes there is a meaning to life in the first place. Fact of the matter is, there is zero evidence out there for the existence of an inherent meaning to life. That, however, does not mean there is no meaning in life; it’s just that any meaning life may have is the meaning that we give it ourselves.
I am not short on such meanings. However, ongoing critical health issues with numerous family members made me thing the matter in depth in an attempt to systemize my thoughts. Throw in stronger signals of my own aging into the mix, and you will see why there is nothing like the realization of my own mortality when it comes to motivating me to make the most of the life I have and love so much.
In particular I found myself wondering about old age. I do not want to end up at an old people’s place where my entire life consists of being taken out of bed in the morning, getting fed, and being taken back to bed in the evening (while, in between, getting bathed by others and shitting in a nappy). It’s awful, and while most of us don’t want to think about it, fact of the matter is many of us reading this post will end up living not that dissimilar a lifestyle; especially now that we have fewer children and those children tend to spread across the globe. This future is coming for us, rest assured; the lucky ones will be those that die quickly with some heart attack or something.
My question therefore turned out to be: at what stage will I consider my life not worth living anymore? When will I feel comfortable ordering my caretakers to flick the switch on the euthanasia machine that I sincerely hope our society will allow for those that choose to use it?
Between this question and the question of what gives meaning to my life, it did not take me long to reach my answer. I derive a huge chuck of meaning from getting to know the world I live in; I derive most of that knowledge through reading. I will therefore answer that on the day I am no longer able to read in any shape or form, without any prospect of regaining that ability, is the day I should be allowed to call it quits. I will also argue that it would be the duty of any person who truly loves me to help me with the flipping of that switch, but that is another story to keep in mind for another day.
In the meantime, I would like to recognize just how important reading is to my life. It is important for me to make that observation, because – as one can tell from the quantity of book reviews I got to write over the past seven years – I do not get to read many books. Or rather, I do not read enough books. Fact of the matter is, for every book I read there are ten or more I would like to read but never get to.
Fact of the matter is, also, that I read a lot. I read tons. It’s just that most of my reading is not book based, it is article based. If you were to examine the statistics on my RSS reader you would see that on an average day I read more than 50 articles and clear double the amount. When you add Twitter links and newspaper/magazine reading to the equation, you will find reading to be the elephant in my room.
It is no coincidence; this reading is what makes me the person I am. The articles are mostly there to tell me about the world I live in, and the books are mostly there to expand the horizons of the world I live in. Both are of utmost importance; take them away from me and I will no longer be me.
I read, therefore I am.

P.S. Spare a thought for all those who want to deprive me of my reading by putting blocks and hurdles in my way. I’m referring to you, the Copyright Industry. Amongst many sins, you are also responsible for depriving meaning out of people’s lives.


Image by F Delventhal, Creative Commons license

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