You listened to the book? That's cheating!

In a recent Wall Street Journal "Ask Ariely" column, a woman named Paula wrote in and asked: do audiobooks count as “real” books? Why am I embarrassed to say that I listened to the book, and what can I do about it?

Dan Ariely’s response was on the right track—you can read it here— but we’d like to go a step further.

There are, in fact, three types of reading: eye-reading, ear-reading, and finger-reading.

Blind people read with their fingers, much of the mainstream reads with their eyes. We dyslexics often read with our ears. Privileging eye-reading above these other modes excludes not a small number of people from accessing information from texts and from enjoying the fruits of a good author.

How big is our community? Conservative studies estimate that dyslexics comprise over 10% of people in the US. It also turns out we are 35% of entrepreneurs and 41% of prisoners (many of who are entrepreneurs in the wrong business!).

One commenter on the blog got this, pardon the dyslexic pun, backwards:

“Let me be brief: books are created to be read the same way plays (and movies) are created to be watched, and music is created to be listen to. There is not a way around it and trying to take a shortcut... deprives her of real pleasures of reading.” —Elizabeth P.

This view is likely held by many mainstream readers but it is narrow and, truly, antiquated. Before the availability of the printed word, people trained themselves to remember great amounts of information by listening and storytelling. Recounting Socrates' dialogue with Phaedrus about the rise of the written word, Plato wrote:

"[F]or this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth."

By the above commenter's standards, Socrates was illiterate.

The inclusion and acceptance of ear-reading, eye-reading, and finger-reading as valid pathways to learning, foreign as they may sound, are key to leveling the playing field for our many unique minds.

If you are a dyslexic who has identified ear reading as your optimal path, this may be old news. You may be like Headstrong Nation’s founder, Ben Foss, who completed both a law and a business degree at Stanford and recently wrote a book about how to become an empowered dyslexic. He accomplished all of this by reading with his ears, and using books on tape and talking computers.

Ben explains his philosophy on reading in his Random House book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blue Print to Renew Your Child's Confidence and Love of Learning:

A child with dyslexia will never eye-read as well as his peers, and that, I hope to reassure you, is fine. Yet all children need to be exposed to vocabulary and ideas to be successful in school. If your child was blind, providing text as audiobooks or Braille would allow her to read with her ears or with her fingers. No one would ever claim that a blind person was lazy or stupid for not reading text with her eyes. When I listen to audio, that’s ear reading. When I speed it up to four hundred words a minute, four times the pace of standard speech... I am leveling the playing field for me.* It’s not what the mainstream conceives of as reading. But it’s ear reading. It’s learning. It’s literacy.

*This needs to be heard to be understood. Check out a demo of super-fast speech below or visit our Tools page for more videos about text to speech and speech to text:

It will take time before people internalize this three-pronged definition of reading. Luckily there were other commenters on the WSJ, who are helping to pave the way:

“I read books - preferably Kindle books, but on paper when necessary. I listen to audio lectures. I watch (and listen) to video lectures and on-line training courses. The point is the information; not the medium. If Marshall McLuhan meant the obvious by “The Medium Is the Message" then I think he got it wrong. The pipe is not the water; the wire is not the electricity. This whole subject strikes me as a bit pretentious, like focusing on the make of car you drove to get to a destination instead of the worthiness of the destination.” —Terrence W.

Thanks for listening, Terrence.

Photo credit: Luci Gutiérrez

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