The Competition for Reading vs Watching

Do you feel like you’d rather read or watch a story? Now that Netflix and Amazon Prime are apps on your phone, you might feel conflicted when waiting at the doctor’s office, at the auto repair shop, or anyplace else you find yourself with time to occupy not doing productive things. And in those rare cases (ha ha) you might be wondering if you should open your Kindle app or one of said streaming services. There’s no right answer here. Stories are stories. You’ll exercise your brain by reading, but you’ll also be entertained and enriched by the hard work of good actors and directors, special effects crews, and evocative camera angles. Your own brain can actually create a good number of these special effects and angles when you read, assuming you do it enough.

A good number of years ago I was talking with someone who told me that when he read books he just saw the words and nothing they really pointed to. Which meant to me that he wasn’t really reading, just acknowledging the words on the page and doing nothing with them. The more we intend to understand what it is that we’re reading, the more we can (potentially) glean from the author’s intention. And the more we end up exercising our brains, our imaginations, and opening up to a world that wasn’t in front of us previously. Some books I’ve read have given me something so panoramic and detailed and enchanting that it can never really be captured on screen. Case in point: Harry Potter series. The movies were decent adaptations to the world created, but they were far less than the reach of my imagination. I’m certain it’s like that for those of you who are readers too.

I chose HP because that is a pretty popular and common pointer. I can certainly use many others. Jurassic Park by the late and great Michael Crichton is another example, but so was his brilliant masterpiece Sphere (I know not everyone agrees about his works). Or how about Orson Scott Card’s inimitable Ender’s Game. I loved the movie, don’t get me wrong, but it can’t reach the depth of articulation brought fully to life by Orson’s use of description and dialogue. Though I admit that some of the special effects in the movie version were really well done, and I enjoyed the acting too!

There’s something else about reading that you don’t get with watching. Time. With watching movies or television series (there are a lot of amazing original series by Netflix, Stranger Things, The O.A. and Travelers spring to mind) you only have a season (or maybe a complete season, like with the unique and totally awesome Fringe) or three available at a time in many cases. You get a lot, but you get so much more from actual books. You, in the words of my astute wife, develop a relationship with the book you’re reading.

Yes, there’s a lot to read out there, and so little time. This comes back to the favor of watching. With watching, when you have limited time to ‘veg’ out, it’s a no brainer. You click on your preferred story and let her rip. Then there’s also something to be said for the acting, those people put forth incredible performances for our viewing joy, and we get to watch it for very little effort. A writer on the other hand must produce all aspects of his or her work and portray faithfully the full range and action of his character crew. Not only that, the writer must be set director, as well as story arch, character arch monitor and creator, and everything else. When it’s done well, it competes very mightily with the viewed world. I also know a good number of people who would rather curl up with a great book any day (even if it is on their kindle and not physically a book in their hand) than watch a TV show or movie on their phone when waiting for _____.

I leave this as an open ended idea for you to play with. What’s better? Which one wins? Well, neither one, or both, and it entirely depends on what you prefer at any given moment, I’m sure. I know that a lot of my fellow indie author friends worry constantly about sales of their books and whether they can possibly compete with streaming media services (oh gosh, I forgot sites like Hulu, oh well) or other well-written books. In my mind there’s room for both activities, and depending on anyone’s given mood it will determine which platform of consumption wins out at any given time.

What do you think is best? Watching a story or reading and using your imagination to go into deeper areas with a story?