Can Reading Make the World a Better Place?

What can one person do to make the world a better place?  Realistically, what can one normal person, with an already full schedule do?  There are so many great ideas of things that could be done, things that would make the world a better place, but what if there was something that we could each do ourselves, that would collectively make the world a better place — by improving quality of life, increasing civil discourse and civic engagement? [1]  And, what if it was essentially free, and could work around your existing routine, wouldn’t that be worth a try?

What is this miracle something?  Reading.  Unfettered, free choice reading.  No assignments or quizzes, just select a book that you want to read, read it, enjoy it and then repeat the whole process.

Here’s the plan in 5-ish easy steps

  • Read more, if you already have books or have access to them
  • Read more broadly (fiction builds empathy, biographies give insights, etc.)
  • Converse more, become an ambassador for greater civil discourse
  • Put books in hands (ebooks, audio books, or real physical books)
  • Repurpose older smart phones and tablets as readers
  • Increase your own civic engagement, and be an ambassador for others

“Reading?  Books?  They’re everywhere, how is that a new idea?”, you ask.   Well, actually, there are vast “book deserts“, which are similar to and seem often to coincide with the by now well known “food deserts“.

Book Desert Map - Unite for Literacy
Want more?  Here’s more info and an interactive map from Unite for Literacy. Click on the map for more information, or use this URL:

Do Kids Want to Read?

Kids Like to Read - Scholastic
58% of kids like or love reading books for fun, but up to 57% have trouble finding books to read. [2]

 10 Reasons Nonreaders Don’t Read

  1. Reading Gives Them a Headache or Makes Their Eyes Hurt
  2. They Can’t Read as Fast as Their Peers (and Get Left Behind)
  3. They Fear They’ll Have to Read Out Loud and Others Will Laugh
  4. They Expect to Be Tested on What They Read — and to Fail the Test
  5. They Believe They Have to Finish Every Reading Selection, No Matter How Long or Difficult
  6. They Fear Their Opinions Will Be Wrong
  7. They Always Get Put Into the “Slow” Group, Which Makes Them Feel Stupid
  8. They Believe They Are Too Far Behind to Ever Catch Up
  9. They Have No Interest in the Material They Are Required to Read
  10. They Get Lost and Can’t Remember What They Have Just Read    [3]


Yes.  Kids do want to read, just not what they are generally told that they should be reading.  The answer is, you guessed it — let the kids have some fun!  If they get to read what they want to read as often as possible, they will become better readers and the rest will follow.  Or, at least it won’t be a stumbling block.   It’s true for all of us:  No one is born reading, it takes practice and the most rewarding practice is something that you want to do.  Want to be a better reader?  Read more of what you enjoy.  Ease will come, speed will come, but only of you read regularly.  Once you can read faster and with less apprehension, even the most odious assigned reading will get completed more quickly.

What if…

What if there was a way to get books into the hands of people who either don’t usually have access to them, or who don’t have mobile devices?  What we’re proposing is simple really, let’s combine the masses of used smart phones an tablets that sit idle after they’ve been replaced by a newer model with eBooks, and maybe even audio books.  Let’s call these theoretical devices Free Readers.


By collective action and by using existing systems for creation and distribution we could get Free Readers into the hands of people who need them most –those without access to physical books.  Public libraries, schools, homes for the elderly and even churches could act as hubs for collection, reconfiguration and distribution of devices to their communities.  The idea as conceived would not necessarily require an anchor organization.

There would be no data network access provided, the Free Readers could be set up and updated via free public WiFi.  Users could load new ebooks and podcasts and then take the repurposed smart phones with them.

Why Smartphones?

Smartphones are ubiquitous.  According to the Pew Research Center on  Internet Technology, “95% of Americans now own a cellphone of some kind, of those 77% own smartphones.” [4] That’s a lot of smartphones, given that the average length of ownership is 18 months, that’s a lot of potential free reader devices.   A September 2016 article in The Atlantic stated, “…thanks to changes in technology and consumer demand, there is hardly any device now that persists for more than a couple of years in the hands of the original owner.”  And went on to say that, “…discarded devices produce large quantities of electronic waste. That waste could be reduced through reuse, repair, or resale. Whether it ever will be is an open question.”  [5]

8,000+ phones are discarded per day, in Australia alone. [6]  Utilizing these unused or replaced devices in this manner, rather than discarding them, would reduce the waste stream.

Happy readers, happy environment.  That’s the Free Reader concept.

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[1] Buffer Open. “The Surprising Power of Reading Fiction: 9 Ways it Make Us Happier and More Creative”  Courtney Seiter.  October 19, 2015.

[2] Scholastic.  “Kids and Family Reading Report: Reading Books For Fun” Fall 2016.

[3] Scholastic.  “10 Reasons Nonreaders Don’t Read — And How to Change Their Minds” Louanne Johnson (No date given)—and-how-change-their-minds/

[4] Pew Research Center on Internet & Technology.  Mobile Fact Sheet, January 12, 2017.

[5] The Atlantic.  “The Global Cost of Electronic Waste
Computers, phones, and other digital devices increasingly are made to be thrown away—which is bad for both consumers and the environment. An Object Lesson.”  Syed Faraz Ahmed  September, 2016.

[6] VICE, Creators.  “New Installation Made Out E-Waste Inspires Australians To Recycle”  TCP Staff February 14, 2014.