Is scrolling the same as reading?

Recently, my partner and I have been having an ‘argument’. For the past several months I have, with various levels of dedication, attempted to pick up whatever book I am reading when I would ordinarily pick up my phone.


Times when I ordinarily reach for my phone: 

  • when the person I am with opens their phone 
  • waiting for the kettle to boil
  • waiting for my partner to get ready
  • while uploading a video to YouTube 
  • the weird gaps of time that happen between things/tasks/activities

In these instances, I’ve started to pick up my book instead. So, it’s now become a reasonably frequent– though imperfect!–habit to pick up my book when my partner picks up his phone and starts scrolling. 

Then one night, when we were preparing to have a late dinner and watch an episode of Sandman, he picked up his phone and I said, ‘No! Don’t do that. There is nothing on Instagram worth seeing and I don’t want to lose you for the next twenty minutes. 

He then said (a tad tongue and cheekish) that he saw no difference between him picking up his phone and scrolling and me reading my book. 

Dear reader, I know I don’t have to explain the difference to you between scrolling and reading but just in case I do, here’s a short list:

  • Reading is a form of entertainment where you are not the product (because you have bought the book, you own a product. Social media is free because you are the product)
  • Reading reduces stress (rather than increasing anxiety)
  • Reading increases your vocabulary (and hopefully absolves you of saying stupid things like ‘I’m so here for it’ or ‘rate it’ or ‘unforch’) 
  • People who read daily live longer (phone scrollers get into car accidents)
  • Reading challenges your perspective (rather than re-enforcing it by only showing you news articles, people, products, or services that mirror your search history)
  • Reading improves sleep (whereas blue light and the interactive nature of social media and clickbait excites us)
  • Reading prevents cognitive decline (turns you into a zombie)
  • Reading means you don’t have to be alone (screen and social media lead to comparison and often heighten loneliness [once you’ve closed the app])
  • Reading inspires you (social media can absolutely do this too(!), but it can also lead to comparison. Why don’t I have a six-pack, magazine-worthy kitchen, perfect puppy, and white-toothed smile?) 

Obviously, I still use my phone and writing this blog and filming this video is very hypocritical because I used new technology to make all of this. I didn’t write these blogs on my phone or film my video using a fancy iPhone camera, but I did use my fancy laptop and I’ve uploaded this content onto YouTube, my website, and Instagram. 

There is a part of me that would kind of love it if the internet just crashed, and we were all freed from this wonderful and miraculous technology, but there is a part of me that also freaking loves the internet and my laptop. After all, I easily spend eight hours a day on these devices…

Technology is a part of our daily lives and it has enabled so many creative people to have careers and access to their audiences in a way that has never happened before. Yes, you have to be privileged enough to own a smartphone and privileged enough to have the education on how to use it, as well as business, marketing, and advertising knowledge… but that’s not what this blog is about. 

What I am saying is that sitting and reading a book for twenty minutes is totally different from scrolling Instagram or watching TikTok videos for twenty minutes. These activities may look kind of similar—sitting, head turned downward, gaze fixed towards our hands—but what is happening in our brains and hearts is wholly different. 

I typed the sentence it’s okay to use your phone and then deleted it because it felt so redundant. Phones aren’t going anyway. The average person is not going to give up their phone (including me). So instead, I’m going to say that it’s okay to pick up a book. You won’t miss out on anything by doing so–FOMO is, in many ways, baffling because once something is online that digital content exists more or less forever. 

Whatever it is you are seeking from a device—distraction, disembodiment, entertainment, information—you can find in books, only better. 

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