The reader’s job is to think

I’m astounded by readers’ very small responses to very big problems — at least as manifested by how they respond to my blog. Readers have a responsibility to think bigger than that.

For example, if I write a post called “Why Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t realize Facebook is evil,” people respond “I quit Facebook.” As if that means they no longer have to think or worry about it.

Can you answer the question “What do I think about what I just read?” If not, why bother reading it?

The author’s job is insight

This is what I learned from 20 years as an analyst, a realization that continued in my years as an author:

My job is to find a new and better insight about something that matters to a lot of people. Then I need to explain why I believe what I believe, how it matters, and what it means to the readers.

That is also the job of a nonfiction author.

The reader’s job is to think and act on that insight

We authors work pretty hard for the benefit of readers. So here’s some advice to readers on what to do about it.

If the work is irrelevant to you, stop reading. You’re not in the target audience. Don’t waste your time.

If the work is poorly argued or flawed, critique it. Write a comment. Write a review. Write a response. If it’s good enough to read but not good enough to believe, why not?

If the work is well argued, act on it. Change how you think. Extend it with your own insights (giving credit, of course). Tell others about it. Tell the author it mattered.

You don’t need to think as hard as the author. The job of the reader shouldn’t be that hard. But you do need to think.

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  1. Hi Josh, I don’t consider myself a deep thinker or even a good writer but I do believe you generalize and simplify a bigger issue in this article. I don’t often comment because I enjoy your insights//writings. I learn from reading them even when I don’t agree with the specific point of that particular post. I do not think that just because an article is well written, clearly argued and insightful people always will change how they think. It is specifically this line in your article. “If the work is well argued, act on it. Change how you think.” that I don’t agree will always or even often happen depending on the nature of the topic.

    People are not computers that just respond with, “yes that makes sense”, I’m going to change my mind. I hope people are affected by good arguments and logic but often there are good arguments and logic for multiple viewpoints on the same subject. The best we can hope for (and I feel like I have journeyed a long way to get to this place) is to not have emotions control our responses and to listen to different viewpoints. The goal is not necessarily to change your mind but to be open to the fact that there are multiple ways of looking at things. I want to respect and care about people more than I want to be right. That means that I can listen and still disagree but not always respond. In fact in many cases responding is just hurtful and pointless. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to read or hear what is being said, it might mean I just disagree. For me the respect and love we show each other, especially regarding topics where our view differ is more important that the topic itself.

  2. First, I checked out the comments in response to your article “Why Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t realize Facebook is evil,” and I think your summary of the responses (“I quit Facebook”) is overly simplistic. Commenters confirmed sharing your piece on other forums, called for increased regulation, and promised to “do my part to take it down in my humble way.”

    Second, as someone who HAS said here, in response to a different post, that I left Facebook long ago, I must insist that my saying “I left Facebook” doesn’t imply “I don’t have to think or worry about it,” as well. I think a lot about the damage Facebook (and all social media, as it is evolving) is doing to our society as a whole and our individual brains, and I discuss this with friends and family, and share your articles and others (like this one by The New York Times’ Ezra Klein with anyone who will look up from his or her phone long enough to listen.

    As a communicator, I have enjoyed your commentary on professional communications, and I have followed you and recommended you to others. And as a thoughtful human being, I have enjoyed your writings here on other topics. But perhaps you’re giving yourself too much credit when you expect your readers, inspired by what you’ve said, to use your site as the forum to announce that they are starting a grassroots movement to regulate Facebook, or break it up, or take it down.

  3. Online publishing has conflated print news, which people once consumed with implicit trust and a perceived obligation to think, and television, which they receive passively as amusement. This has changed the way writers and publishers present information, and seems to affect the way readers take it in.

    Readers have to think about much more than the words offered. They have to think about the author’s credibility, the publisher’s reputation, and potential other functions of the site, from ad sales to phishing to propaganda. Skepticism is important, but it can lead to cynicism and fatigue.

    The online versions of major newspapers can be leveraged by well-financed groups to shape public opinion and influence policy. News aggregators are driven by immediacy and seldom edit, much less scrutinize, the articles they republish. “News analysis” and opinion sites have no obligation to be factual; their only guardrail is libel law. Some site owners use AI to generate “content” to lure traffic, which they use to attract advertisers, a form of fraud.

    All this requires a lot of thinking from readers, unrelated to the article on screen.

    Without Bullshit® is entertaining. Your posts often teach me something, or inspire me to look at a familiar topic in a different way. And you have built a reputation for integrity not by proclaiming infallibility but by writing thoughtful pieces week after week. You’ve earned our trust.

    Maybe if more online writers worked as hard as you do, readers would become more actively engaged with their ideas. Those who offer only clickbait don’t deserve a thought.

  4. Friends, I’m not asking everyone to start a movement.

    All I’m asking is, don’t stop thinking with “I took care of it for myself.”

    Facebook is a global issue. Global warming is a global issue. Lying politicians are a global issue.

    “I don’t use Facebook,” “I don’t use oil heat,” and “I didn’t vote for Trump” are not global solutions.