Blinkist and the Decline of Civilization


Right off, I don’t blame Blinkist for the decline of civilization. It is just one of many, many reasons.  It is a service that offers non-fiction books in “bitesize audio and text.” These are much-abridged versions of books made for busy people with little bits of time.

You can get a free trial for 7 days. With these short knowledge hits you could consume a lot of titles in 7 days.  I’m an audiobooks fan so I can listen to Robin Sharma’s The 5 AM Club which can help me “Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life” in 12 minutes. I added two classics of the business book genre: Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is 19 minutes and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People adds 21 minutes. All three in under an hour. They have over 3,000 titles and 11 million users. So, how are they adding to the decline of civilization?

The Clinton Library lists 10 signs of the end. They are big things like the declining middle class and the decline of the family. No mention of abridged books.

So how are abridged books going to lead to societal collapse? It happened fast for the Maya civilization. Not big readers, I assume. They never saw it coming. It happened gradually in the case of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. They did see it coming, but didn’t act to stop it.

Great civilizations are not murdered; they take their own lives. That is what historian Arnold Toynbee concluded in his 12-volume A Study of History that explored the rise and fall of 28 different civilizations. Are we on the road to civilization collapse?

I found a website that claims there are food signs of civilization decline.
Think of those ancient Romans serving boiled calves stuffed with pig and lamb. George IV had a four-foot-tall Turkish mosque constructed out of marzipan at a banquet where 127 dishes were served. Excess. Gluttony. The site points at gluttonous dishes at fancy and fast-food restaurants. Those ancient Romans might appreciate stuffed crust pizza, a KFC Double Down or a turducken.

When I was teaching at a university a fellow professor tried to convince me that Microsoft Powerpoint was leading to the collapse of civilization. His theory was that the tendency to put everything into bite-sized slides with a few bullet points was destroying knowledge and intellect and would lead to the end of our civilization. He was right about the overuse of the slides. I’m not sure he was correct about civilization’s end, but it is an indicator of bigger things.

I guess I feel the same about these abridged book samplers as he did about Powerpoint lectures. They read (or sound) to me like the book reports kids write in elementary school. can you really condense a good book into 15 minutes?

bookMy mom subscribed to Reader’s Digest and got their Condensed Books when I was a young boy. I liked reading and in one volume I read The Silent World by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

These were not 15-minute reads. I was reading them at 10-years-old and they were over my head – not above my reading level, just a bit adult for me. But I felt accomplished at finishing each “book.”

In one 1961 Summer Volume #46 (which I still own), I read The Winter of Our Discontent (John Steinbeck), The Agony and the Ecstasy (Irving Stone), The Making of the President, 1960 (Theodore H. White), A Lodging for the Emperor – Japanese Inn (Oliver Statler) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (James Hilton). That’s a good bookshelf.

And now that I’m writing about those abridged books, I realize that I was also a very big fan of Classics Illustrated comics.

I devoured Hamlet, Macbeth, Moby-Dick, Gulliver’s Travels and other weighty books in this graphic novel format from the second half of the 20th century. My mom bought many of them for me and along with those condensed books, she encouraged my reading.

It worked. It may not have happened to all the readers of those books and comics, but when I read something I liked, I went on to read the full version and other books by the author.

So, now I’m thinking that Blinkist might actually help stop the decline of civilization. If you read even a short summary of a good book, it can spark ideas, and it just might lead you to the full version.

I suppose I’m hopeful for civilization’s future.

“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.” — T.S. Eliot

“Civilized nations build libraries; lands that have lost their soul
close them down. ” — Toby Forward

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
— Jorge Luis Borges

“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of physical evidence we have
that people are still thinking.” —  Jerry Seinfeld

Published by

Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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