Why Do We Read?

We often hear the phrase in school that “Reading is fundamental.” Maybe it is our parents, our teachers, or our friends who play the biggest influence on us when it comes to imparting the wisdom of how important it is to read and to read a lot. I remember taking trips to the school library when I was younger to pick out a book and read during recess or after school if I were to borrow one. Sometimes, my classmates and I would go to book fairs to buy a few books for cheap where they would be different genres including action, adventure, history, science fiction, etc. I always looked forward to these book fairs or to go to the library and I was lucky enough to go to schools where reading was encouraged and how it was part of the curriculum. This freedom to pick out books to rent or to buy and to choose what, when, and how to read is one of the fundamental joys of life. However, even in our modern age, I find that reading books is not emphasized nearly as enough as it should.

While we have access to more information than ever before in more ways than ever before, there are still disappointing statistics when it comes to how much the average American is reading books. According to Pew Research, a quarter of American adults have not read a book in electronic or physical form in the past year, either in finishing part of a book or finishing the whole of it. Even with the rise of electronic books such as Amazon Kindle, audiobooks such as Audible, and the continuance of the printed book form, there is still a sizable part of the population who choose not to read books.

It is important to note that you cannot force someone to read books or to acquire knowledge through the written form, but any society does have the responsibility to give its citizens the chance and opportunity to read books at low to no cost. In order to do this, it is important to foster a great sense of importance surrounding books and the acquiring of knowledge through that medium from a very young age. Every child should have access to discounted or free books so that they learn to love reading whatever the subject may be. I was lucky enough to have access through my school, the local public library, or through being assigned books to read by teachers who cared. Every young person should be able to access the same opportunity to read and to acquire knowledge in that way without barriers.

Reading should be a fundamental right and not a luxury. To build a better society, fostering a love of reading plays a critical yet underrated role. At our core, most of us are curious about the world and we can learn so much about it if we have access to books. Reading can be quite powerful in several ways in that it expands our comprehension of the world and all its peculiarities.

Our ability to experience the word is limited so reading plays a great role in expanding our understanding of different people, places, and concepts that we may not get direct exposure to. This is especially the case when it comes to geography, history, science, etc. because while we may not experience these events or these chain reactions or these places directly, reading books is the closest any of us will get to being there in person or being apart of what happened.

Reading also forms the basis of having a strong imagination, one that can conceptualize and create new ideas based on previous books that one has read in the past or currently. Architects, engineers, politicians, scientists, writers, etc. can better develop themselves in their professions precisely because of the books that they have read from those who came before them. While you wouldn’t copy word for word the experiences or the work of others, anybody who reads can take those ideas to influence their own ideas to carry our actions that would change the world in some measurable way.

Reading books is also a needed respite from the daily anxieties and stresses that we experience in daily life. Taking 30 minutes to an hour at night or in the morning to escape to a fictional, fantasy, or previous state of the world is a way to calm the mind and to let your imagination run wild in a healthy manner. To calm yourself down, to ease into a nice book, and to let your mind wander for a little while is a key part of developing a healthy individual and is almost meditative in its calming nature.

Long after high school, college, or even graduate school, the knowledge and wisdom encapsulated in books will remain an important way to develop oneself intellectually and stoke one’s curiosity long after the first part of your life is over. Reading is a way to tap into one’s ability to be a lifelong learner and to become better in your profession or in your career pursuits. Whether you want to become an expert in your chosen field or to start a business or to run with a new idea that could change the world, books hold the key that could make your dreams a reality.

Perhaps the next time you see someone reading a book, go up to them and politely ask them about it. You should bring yourself back to that time when you were younger, and you walked down the halls of the school or local library and were curious about many books that all seem captivating. You should not let that fire go out of you as you get older. You should make the time to go to the bookstore, to the public library, or to a local fair to read something that perks your own interest. One of the worst things that we can do to ourselves is to lose that sense of curiosity and wonder related so closely with reading a new book for the first time. It is also important to bond with other readers, find out what they like to read, and whether they would be able to recommend you anything based on your personal tastes.

Cultivate that love of reading and spread it around to your friends and your family. Reading books is contagious, and people are curious so don’t be afraid to read a book at the lunch counter, on the subway, or even in a public park. We can get more people to read books again by setting the example and by imparting the knowledge and wisdom gained from books to others through our reading experience. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, “Reading is fundamental” and it should not be gone to waste.

Any active and engaged reader should also be standing up for others in terms of easy access to books, whether psychical or digital in our modern age. In your community, city, or country, you should be playing a part to make sure that public libraries stay open and are in good shape. You should donate books when you are done with them and especially to those children and adults who go without them. In addition, volunteering to read to children and/or teenagers is a great way to give back to your community. Everybody should have access to read and they should not be limited by the cost of it. That is why it is extremely important to support those politicians and community leaders who make sure the schools have libraries, that the public library is free for all, and that there are local book fairs that are cheap and are not too expensive for those citizens who want to buy books.

Without books, true knowledge and wisdom cannot be obtained. Be wary of those who do not read at all but do not insult them. Instead, try to bring them on to your side by highlighting the benefits of reading and how it has changed you to be a better learner. Reading should not be forced, of course, but it should be encouraged in helping to build a better society and a better world. Anyone can play a small part in this and I hope that you, the reader of this article, will play a small part in shaping it.

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An Urban Transformation

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“The kids were cheering me on.”

I had the pleasure recently of visiting Comuna 13, a neighborhood in Medellin that has had a difficult history with gang violence and the illegal drug trade but which is showing signs of both progress and renewal. Due to the investments made by both the local and city government, Comuna 13 has become a hotbed for beautiful street art and graffiti murals, which has attracted many local artists to make a positive mark on this community. Many of these artists are from Medellin and grew up in the neighborhoods of Comuna 13. Rather than discuss the past of Comuna 13, I would rather talk about why this particular community is poised to have a brighter future.

Beyond just the new street art and the graffiti murals that you can find around Comuna 13 are the relatively new escalators that connect the San Javier metro station to the communities located in the hills surrounding this transportation hub. These escalators make it a lot easier for both students and workers to gain easier access to the rest of the Medellin metropolitan area and are an easy way to get from point A to point B. The escalators are free to use for all people including the tourists who come to visit this part of the city.

While the escalators are not so numerous, it is possible that more of them will be added to other parts of the city in the future if I were to haphazard a guess. Medellin can set an example to other urban cities on how to connect neighborhoods efficiently with the use of escalators, especially those with sloping hills and steep mountains within the city limits. For the elderly and children as well, these escalators can be quite useful in helping them get around the neighborhood without too much trouble.

If you don’t feel like taking the escalators, there are concrete staircases adjacent to the new escalators so you can choose which way you want to go up or go down. The escalators are weatherproof as well which is quite genius when you think about. On your way to the metro, the overhang, which is a bright, fluorescent orange color, will protect you fully from the elements such as rain, snow, hail, etc. It only takes about five to ten minutes to get from the top of the escalators to the bottom of the escalators so if you’re in a rush, you won’t have to go through too many escalators to get to your final destination.

The city government of Medellin and local police has done a great job in my opinion with regards to keeping this part of Comuna 13 safe and secure. I noticed during my visit that locals and volunteers are instrumental in helping to keep the area around the escalators clean and orderly. There are park benches and small parks nearby to encourage community get-togethers as well as the fact that there is a big slide where the local children can use to slide up and down to have some fun in the neighborhood. Being the kid at heart that I am, I partook in one of the slides because it is pretty enjoyable and you do go down at a pretty fast speed.

Beyond just the new escalators, the cool slides, and the park benches, there are also now a few library parks, which are free for members of the community to enjoy, explore, and learn. In addition to being places for education, the libraries are great meeting places for the community and can strengthen neighborhood ties. You can also hold cultural, recreational, and educational activities such as group English classes or a family birthday party. Books in these libraries are free to borrow and use.

Everyone can use them regardless of their age, educational level or social status. The mind is a terrible thing to waste and because of the twelve library parks in Comuna 13 and other parts of Medellin, city residents here have a real chance to learn new things and satisfy their curiosity. One particular volunteer group that I’m interested in learning about is called ‘Stairway to English’, which provides free English classes with native speakers to members of the Comuna 13 community.

My visit to Comuna 13 left quite an impact on me. I did go through an organized tour this time, which I do recommend to people visiting this webpage. It was really useful to learn about the history, background, and the progress being made for this part of Medellin. Medellin is quite a large city and it can be easy to get caught up in only staying within your own neighborhood and to not see other parts of the city. Personally, I do hope that other escalator projects in urban areas will become popular in Colombia and other parts of the world.

Human beings are increasingly becoming more urban with over 70% of the world’s population projected to be living in cities by mid-century. This puts the onus on local, city, and national governments to adapt to this reality and try to make life easier and better for the millions of people who call a city their home. Other cities should take note of the social progress being made in Comuna 13 and I can only hope that more and more residents of Medellin will be able to improve their lives in different ways because of urban projects like building library parks or constructing escalator routes.

If you’re in Medellin sometime and you’re curious to check out the positive urban transformation that is ongoing in Comuna 13 and other parts of the city, I would recommend using Comuna 13 Tours, which has a very knowledgeable, kind, and helpful staff members who are bilingual and want to share their city with foreigners out of the goodness in their heart. This is not an official endorsement and I don’t get paid or receive any benefits from mentioning this tour on my website.

I’m doing it because I really enjoyed the experience I had recently with them and I think other visitors who come to Medellin should do the same based off my positive experience using this tour group. Perhaps, most importantly of all, you’ll meet a few locals during your tour and you can see how hospitable, kind, and open they are in Comuna 13. My only advice is to be careful about your photo taking, and to be respectful of both the tour guide and the locals who are kind enough to take some time out of their day to share with you. I look forward to visiting Comuna 13 again someday and I hope to use that giant slide again too.

For more information: http://www.comuna13tours.com/

A Wealth of Knowledge

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“The sharing and exchange of knowledge is easier now than it has ever been in human history.”

There has been no other time in human history than in today’s era where the average person with access to the Internet can seemingly have unlimited amounts of information available to him or her. When you truly think about the magnitude of it, untold amounts of data are being created every day. According to IBM, “The current estimate is 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day and over 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years alone.”

A common response nowadays from both family and friends when I ask a question to them about a random query is not a straight-forward answer but rather an off-handed suggestion to “Google it.” Living in this era of ‘Big Data’ can be quite overwhelming to the average person but one could also look into it as an opportunity to gain knowledge and further ones’ understanding on a limitless amount of subjects with the simple click of a mouse. The Internet is an amalgamation of thousands of libraries of Alexandria at the beck and call of one’s fingertips.

Compared to past ages when information and knowledge was more exclusive and harder to come by, today’s era allows everyone with an Internet connection to search and find information to their heart’s content. Instead of going to a library to find what you need on a subject, websites like Google, Wikipedia, and other online encyclopedias have largely replaced the main role of the physical library. I remember when I was younger and in my high school days having to seek out certain books in order to write a research paper or complete a book report.

However, now more than ever, you can easily find the sources of information you need online in order to facilitate your research and evidence. While I love libraries and hope that they never go out of style, the reality is that online encyclopedias and eBooks are largely replacing their original purpose. In order for libraries to stay relevant, they need to start incorporating computers, free Wi-Fi, and technical classes in order to remain useful.

From the 18th to the 20th centuries, universities and colleges across America were the standard bearers and purveyors of higher education. Originally for the elite, wealthy, and well connected, those students who were able to get accepted and afford undergraduate and graduate studies believed that they would have an advantage in the job market and in achieving the American Dream. More recently, as colleges and universities have become more inclusive than exclusive, tuition prices have inversely risen as well.

While higher education has become accessible to more and more young Americans, it also has become more expensive especially over the past decade. These events have led to an ongoing debate as to whether college is really worth the price tag and whether the average student gains anything from earning a four-year degree. With student loan debt at an all-time high of $1.3 trillion in 2015 in the United States and tuition rates at both public and private universities continuing to rise, people are beginning to look for alternatives to the current higher education system.

Over the past decade, there has been a drastic proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) provided by both private companies and traditional universities. At a much lower price and sometimes free, people from all over the world can sign-up for these courses and partake in lectures, tests, quizzes, and papers as if they were actual enrolled undergraduate and graduate students at the physical form of the university. As the credentials and certifications bestowed upon these courses continue to increase and become more widely accepted, we may begin to see ‘the end of college’ as we know it.

Examples like Khan Academy, edX, Coursera, Udacity, etc. and other MOOCs have leveled the playing field. Tech entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley have allowed students from all over the world to access unlimited online courses to further their academic knowledge at a lower price. With the subsequent rise in online university programs for undergraduates and graduates, the physical college experience of dormitories, lecture halls, football stadiums, etc. may become less appealing to students as tuition prices continue to increase. While the social and networking benefits of college life are numerous, they may not be enough to compete with this era of free information that we are living in.

Compared to past decades, we’re living in a time when access to the Internet is at an all-time high and is increasingly rapidly due to the rise of mobile technology. Traditional havens of knowledge such as the library or the public university will have to adapt to stay relevant in this unlimited information age. In a worldwide job market that is evolving rapidly and where the average child today will work in an industry not yet created, the free exchange of knowledge must continue to spread through the worldwide web.

Countless others and I have benefited from taking online coding courses on ‘Codeacademy’ to learning new languages on ‘Duolingo.’ As MOOCs and online universities continue to develop their courses and credentials, we may begin to see an era where the average person can earn a degree or two without breaking the bank. MOOCs are cheaper, less time intensive, and can adapt more easily to the rapidly changing employment market.

A well-educated population is now more possible now than ever with the wealth of knowledge and information that is available. That fact is evident but it also is up to the individual to be willing to search for that information and actually apply it. Instead of getting frustrated with people asking me to ‘Google’ the answer, I find that it’s worth the hassle because it’s often true that I will find the answers I’m looking for and in greater detail than if I were to ask a friend or family member for a quick description. That’s the power of the Internet. That’s the wealth of knowledge that we are able to take advantage of.

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