Ask anyone if they look more favorably upon someone who just finished reading Becoming by Michelle Obama or another who just binged two seasons of Big Mouth on Netflix, and most people would choose the former. The reason, however, is based upon a false reality concerning the perceived value of the two activities.
Those who more often spend their free time watching television are lazy and their minds are turning to mush; those who choose to read are intellectuals interested in understanding the world to make it a better place. At least, these are the generic stereotypes we have.
The reality, however, is that both mediums have the ability to open up a new world of discovery and learning to the audience. They’re each capable of expanding imaginations, fostering creativity, teaching empathy, developing language skills, improving memory, or simply providing entertainment and a brief escape from the stress of everyday life. But these attributes, even in their varying degrees of effectiveness, do not give an advantage to one over the other.
Reading and watching television are inherently neutral when compared side-by-side.
The real value is measured based on what one does after engaged in the activity.
Knowledge is utterly useless unless it becomes a tool for a practical purpose. It’s like loading a program onto a computer but never launching it. You went through the effort to obtain and install it, but you received no utility from it. Wasted exertion.
I could spend the entire day reading the dictionary while you watch The Walking Dead, but if I never use a new word in conversation and you make a new personal connection with someone by bonding over the gore in Rick Grimes’ latest killing spree, then your time was better spent than mine.
A child watching ten episodes of Fuller House who changes her behavior toward her friends because of lessons she learned from Uncle Jesse has made a bigger impact on the world than the CEO who reads ten books on management, pays them lip service to impress his peers, but never changes his own behavior.
If you read dozens of self-improvement articles on the internet but do nothing with the content, you’re in the same place you would have been if you’d just gone to Facebook or Instagram and looked at pictures of food. It’s perfectly acceptable if you’re just looking for entertainment, but be honest and acknowledge no self-improvement actually occurred unless you use what you’ve learned.
So drop that book and binge-watch television! I’d look more favorably upon a parent who consumed Big Mouth, remembers how hard puberty was, and goes to bond with their teenager over it rather than the person who read Becoming and simply felt inspired for a few hours before falling asleep.
Michelle knows this. There’s a reason why she chose to include a journal with her book. She understands that reflecting on and engaging with knowledge is the only way it becomes valuable.