The merits of audiobooks versus physical books is a debate that has plagued the bookish community since the invention of audiobooks in 1932. The debate has grown as the popularity of audiobooks has increased, with the first notable spark in 1955. There is still no concurrence on if listening to audiobooks can even be considered reading.

The definition of reading, according to Google, is “the action or skill of reading written or printed matter silently or aloud.” If only this definition is taken into account, then the debate is settled: Listening to audiobooks is not a form of reading. After all, the definition clearly states “reading written or printed matter,” so audiobooks are automatically excluded because they are listened to and not printed. 

However, this definition is antiquated. This idea of what reading is dates all the way back to between 3000 B.C. and 3500 B.C. when the earliest evidence of writing was discovered. At this time, there was no technology to record audio and distribute it to others. It makes sense, then, for that technology to not be included in the definition. Words are not static, though. Countless words have gone out of use or had alterations made to their definitions. The modern definition of reading needs to undergo a change to account for modern technology such as audiobooks.

Audiobooks provide a host of benefits. One of the most obvious and beneficial aspects of an audiobook is how portable it is. They can be downloaded onto cell phones which the vast majority of people already carry around with them daily. This means they can be read on the go very easily unlike with chunky physical books that could potentially be damaged during travel. Downloading is another benefit. This feature allows people to have audiobooks on practically any device they want — cell phones, computers, tablets, Ipods and more.

The second advantage of audiobooks is that they allow people to multitask. Many people want to read either daily or occasionally but do not have the time to sit down with a physical book or an ebook. There is little to no time to dedicate to pleasure, a struggle college students contend with during classes. Audiobooks are the perfect remedy. They can be listened to while doing laundry or dishes, cleaning, walking to classes, eating — basically whenever attention does not have to be solely focused on a single task. There are times when physical books could be read, such as while eating, but this risks the book being damaged. Audiobooks do not pose the same hazard.

There are also a bunch of assets that may not come to mind right away. For example, people who have dyslexia but love books may like audiobooks because they get the story without the difficulty. Audiobooks can be used to practice a new language. If it is purchased in a foreign language that someone is trying to learn, they will learn an abundance of new words. While this can also be done with physical books, reading it yourself does not give the proper pronunciation of the words. The word would be learned but the ability to say it out loud, a vital part of spoken languages, would not. People who focus well when another is talking but not on visual text may also find audiobooks advantageous.

All of this is not to say that physical books are inferior to audiobooks. All methods of reading are valid and which one a person prefers depends on their needs. The takeaway should be that the idea that listening to audiobooks is not actually reading is not true; it is simply a different kind of reading that is not included in the word’s outdated definition.

Posted by Campus Carrier

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