The Technium

The Super-Power of Reading


I wrote this small essay for Maria Popova’s anthology The Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader.  This book is a collection of letters paired with art, words by writers matched with art by artists. The intent is to encourage kids to read.  My piece follows:

Imagine you can choose your own superpower. You get to pick one of these three: flying, invisibility, or being able to read. Which one do you choose? Flying is not so useful without other superpowers; invisibility is okay for being naughty or for a little fun but not good for much else. But if you could read, especially if you were the only one who could read … you’d be the most powerful person on Earth. You would be able to tap into all the wisdom of the smartest people who ever lived on the planet. Their knowledge would go from their heads  through squiggles on paper through your eyes right into your head. You would learn things from them that no ordinary mortal would ever have enough time to learn by themselves. You would kind of be as smart as everybody in total. In fact the best ideas and knowledge from geniuses long dead would be in your mind. Not that you have to remember it all. Any time you want you can use your superpower of reading to find the exact information you need using the lookup method.

Reading is a superpower that also gives you a type of teleportation. It can transport your mind to a different place than where your body is. The feeling of being immersed in a different place, or even a different time period, can be so strong you may not want to leave.

When you have this superpower you can see the world from the viewpoint of someone else. You see the outside through their eyes. This is an amazing power that allows you to get more things done with others, with less violence and sorrow. It also helps protect you from the mistakes and untruths of others as well as your own ignorance.

In the real world of course, you would not be the only person with this superpower. Many other people acquire this power. This doesn’t diminish your power, it actually increases it. Because others can read, they can write, which increases the number of living minds you can connect your mind with. With the power of reading today you can connect with billions of other minds, in almost real time. Their minds can be funneled from anywhere on the globe right to your mind.

More and more of our society is centered on pictures and images, which is a beautiful thing. But some of the most important parts of life are not visible in pictures. Ideas, insights, logic, reason, mathematics, intelligence. These can’t be drawn, photographed, or pictured. They have to be conveyed in words, arranged in a orderly string, and can only be understood by those who have acquired the superpower of reading.

This superpower is always with you; it will never leave you. But like all superpowers, it increases the more you use it. The more you write, the better you read; the more you read, the better you write. It does not matter where you read, whether on bits of paper, or on a screen. It does not matter where you write, whether on bits of paper or on a screen.  Someday in the future there will be new machines and even newer ways to read and write. This is a superpower that will only increase in value and power as time progresses. At any time, it beats any other superpower you can name.

[The art that my text was paired with, shown above, is by Andrea Tsurumi.]


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