03 Jul

We see reading as an introvert’s hobby. But did you know that reading was initially a social event? 😱

So how did it become a private activity? If you’re curious to know the answer, put on your reading glasses, as we’ll be diving into a brief overview of how reading evolved into the hobby that we love today! 

Source: https://gph.is/15P7MOt

Reading in the Ancient World 

Reading started as a public affair. For centuries, those who could read, such as the ancient Greeks, read aloud. Many of these readings took place in social spaces like workshops and taverns. 

Why? Because literacy rates were poor—education was reserved for the rich, and the ancient world had no desire to make reading more accessible with their elitist mentality. Majority of the world’s population, therefore, had to be satisfied with oral readings. 

Source: https://gph.is/1gNAiqp

“The default assumption in the classic period, if you were reading around other people, you’d read aloud and share it.”

– D. Vance Smith, a medievalist in the Princeton English department

So, what changed? 

It wasn’t until the introduction of word separation that more people began reading privately. Latin words used to all run together, makingitveryhardtoread. But Irish monks in the seventh century started adding spaces between the words to help them understand the language better. Reading became a lot easier, and the practice of word separation soon made its way across the rest of Europe and the world. 

On top of that, the availability of different reading materials also propelled the rise of solitary reading. By the 1800s, the presence of newspapers and novels encouraged people to read more voraciously. 

A Dangerous Hobby? 

But not everyone was sold on the concept of reading privately. For one, skeptics thought that silent reading attracted daydreamers and the “sin of idleness”, and worse, women who read alone in bed were prone to “sexy, dangerous thoughts”.

Source: https://gph.is/2aYMZno

Think about it: if someone heard stories from the Bible being read aloud, some authority figure would be present to interpret the text. However, if that person read alone, they are left to their own imagination. 

Furthermore, it was fairly common in the past to have bookworms fall asleep with their reading candles still lit, resulting in many untimely deaths!

Source: https://gph.is/1gR9N2D

Ultimately, our love for books and the increased normalisation of privacy led to the permanent establishment of solitary reading that we simply can’t do without. And with materials such as audiobooks and ebooks today, reading is still evolving and more accessible. Don’t believe us? Check out this study on Singaporeans’ reading habits here!  

What do you think? Do you prefer the group readings of the past, or how we read today?