I learned something demoralizing recently: we forget most of what we read. I think I knew this anecdotally, but I didn’t want to admit it. Still, to be told it’s the case was first astonishing then frustrating. Now it’s motivating.
An article by pastor and author Austin Carty claimed we forget 90% of what we read. Another pastor and author, John Piper, said he forgets 99% of all he’s read. These too are anecdotes but surely there have been studies that numerically prove these two readers’ experience. So, I’m accepting it’s the same figure for me.
It frustrated me to hear that ratio, both as a reader and writer. Am I wasting my time? Is there a more effective way to read? Sometimes, I’ll share an article and someone will comment an affirmation with a one-sentence adage that shortens my thesis and summarizes the entire piece. Would I save everyone time by posting just the adage as a Facebook status?
Thinking this way misses the point of reading, and so, the point of writing hundreds of “extra” words.
Yes, we’ll forget most of what we read, but the point isn’t to remember it all. Carty said, “uploading information to our brains is not the main reason for reading… [Rather] The primary purpose of reading is… to constantly keep refining the lens through which we see reality.” Piper knows this to be true: “Sentences change my life, not books. What changes my life is some new glimpse of truth, some powerful challenge, some resolution to a long-standing dilemma, and these usually come concentrated in a sentence or two.”
It is the process of reading that forms our thinking, not remembering everything we’ve ever read. A coworker and friend clarified this to me, the 90-99% we’re forgetting is not necessary. It’s needed in the moment to add entertainment or depth or context, but what we take away from the literature is why it was written. That’s the purpose it serves and the reason we read.
So, now knowing what I do about our saturated memories, I write what I hope sticks with you. I’ve never been one to waste words or talk needlessly. I’ll write what needs to be said, as shortly as possible, because we’ll likely forget it anyway.
– Scot Belavia