Reading Saved My Brain Cells

When I finished university three months ago, a weird thing happened to me: I had an overwhelming bunch of free time all of a sudden. Due to this (and of spending most of it lying down bored), I started feeling lethargic; physically but, interestingly, mentally as well. The startling change from writing a dissertation – and focusing my brain every day for months as a result – to watching episode-upon-episode of ‘Friends’ while scanning my mobile for days on end started to become numbing.

I started to feel dumb as hell. So I set myself a promise and a challenge at the same time: I was going to read. A lot. A bunch of different genres, a mix of fact and fiction, as much and as often as possible. I hoped that doing so would kick-start my brain, and change me from being pacified by Netflix to being inquisitive about the world again.

I’ve never been the best at following up on challenges I make to myself, but I don’t think I’ve done too terribly so far. I have read 6 books since the end of May, and am currently half way through my 7th. At the end of this post you can find a list of all the books I’ve made my way through so far, and some on my to-read list – just in case you’re lacking some book recommendations!

To prepare for this post I delved into doing some research to see if there was a conclusive link between this uptake in reading and why I feel much more mentally alert and satisfied recently. Turns out, this is a common feeling when it comes to stepping up your levels of reading, but there are a whole load of other effects that are enhanced resultingly.

For instance, reading fiction increases your ability to empathise. A study carried out by psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano at the New School for Social Research in New York, proves that reading fiction helps you to navigate real-life complex social relationships easier. In explaining these findings, Kidd notes that:

“What great writers do is turn you into the writer. In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others”

So if you’ve ever found yourself reading and wondering why a character would act in such a way, and its wracked your brain for a good chunk of the book (Holden Caulfield, why are you so annoying and stupid?!?) – you’re not alone…especially when it comes to understanding the protagonist in ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ Your brain is helping you get inside the character’s head, to fully understand them and their actions.

Another great boost I discovered when I set out on this challenge was I got better at concentrating, due to how immersive reading is. It has now gotten to the stage where I can complete a whole bunch of tasks without even breaking concentration to check my mobile. This is because reading helps lengthen your attention span, leading many to suggest that reading a little bit every day can do you a world of good in the long-run.

Also, as shown through the diagram below, reading engages different aspects of your brain to work at once. Just like physical exercise, the more you exercise these mental muscles the stronger they will be and will become in the future:

Image result for reading brain

All of these benefits combined prove one thing: that reading is the greatest workout for your brain, and it’s a workout I hope to continue using often for the foreseeable future.

Books I have read (since May):

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer
  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (currently reading)

To-Read:

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  • Dreams From My Father by Barrack Obama
  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson
  • Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House by John Heilemann & Mark Halperin

TL;DR: Books are amazing and do so much for us and we do not deserve them (but should definitely try and read everyday anyway).

 

Streaming: Buying Music Out or Opening Doors?

As we all know, for as long as record labels have been dabbling in music, successful music/musicians = money. Music is so easily commodified; it is a medium most people use, a medium that can make anyone’s mundane day better, and any great day fantastic. Such high public use means a good opportunity for money making, naturally.

But with the continued growth and success of streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal: is music becoming much more than just $$$? Can music streaming provide a real grounding and break-through for Indie musicians who have to graft harder than their established counter-parts?

Compared to smaller streaming services, such as Deezer and Tidal, it’s evident that the paid streaming field is populated mostly by Spotify and Apple Music. It probably didn’t take data and a graph to figure that out (when are you ever told to check something out on Deezer?), but still – the figures illustrate the popular conceptions of music streaming:

Infographic: The Music Streaming Landscape | Statista
Source: Statistica, Dec 14th. 2017. As of 2018, Spotify now has 75 million paid subscribers, while Apple Music has 40 million.

And this graph just illustrates those who PAY for such services. It has been estimated that in 2018, at least 95 million people use Spotify’s free services. And that’s just ONE streaming service. This has got to only be a good thing for up-and-coming musicians, right?

Not exactly. Spotify has always been regarded as failing Indie musicians – major artists and record labels make up the money lost from poor streaming pay as Spotify pays to license the music of popular musicians, something they don’t do for Indie artists. New musicians tend to miss out in monetary gain. In an even worse turn of events, the meagre sum that artists gain is divied up between their ‘right’s holders’ – record labels, publishers, etc. Basically, an artist gets roughly $0.0084 for each track streamed, but in reality this tiny sum is somehow even smaller.

So, should fans of Indie music give up streaming services once and for all? In a word…no. In the midst of all this doom and gloom for the future of Indie music is the advantages gained through use of streaming sites that are so densely populated. Playlists tailored to users, such as Spotify’s weekly-updating ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist, introduce listeners to new music. Music that may be new, or 40 years old – but which is new to the listener nonetheless. Through features such as this, I have discovered some of my current favourite bands and musicians that I doubt I would have heard of without it.

As acknowledged by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter VÉRITÉ in an article she wrote for Forbes in March, it isn’t the role of music streaming services to make Indie musicians successful. Instead, they offer the possibility of discovery. The role of the musician and record label in such an era of music saturation is to convert the “passive-listener to active fan through any means possible. Locate and solidify your tribe to build a solid foundation. Find your people, and work for them.”

In an era where music is everywhere, and anyone can access a wide range of it through streaming; musicians are able to optimise such platforms to point interested people in the right direction, and to hope that strangers will stumble upon their hard-work. A perfect example of this is Soundcloud. Budding musicians upload their newest track, newest EP, newest remix, and cross their fingers that someone will stumble across it and propel them into the public consciousness. The new accessibility of music is therefore not a negative for Indie musicians, it provides a whole new realm of possibility.

TL;DR: Music streaming services pay musicians poorly, which is bad as Indie artists rarely make much money. BUT in an era of musical saturation, streaming can be used as a discovery tool; an accessible way for new fans to hear songs they love. It becomes a platform for new musicians to bounce off.