General life lesson: If everyone else is doing Thing A, there's probably an advantage to be gained doing something other than Thing A.

I’ve seen at least one study [PDF] that shows that we’re reading significantly more thanks to the internet, and we’re spending a lot more time doing it. That's not to say we're consuming better information; we're just consuming more of it.

In this case, Thing A represents reading current web-based words. It’s never been more important for you to think about what you’re reading.

For the last couple of years or so, I’ve tried to follow a very rough rule of thumb: for every minute I spend reading current, web-based content, I’d like to spend at least a minute reading book-bound content (incidentally, mostly stuff written before the 1960s). It’s not something I’m completely successful at. I don't even track it. I just think it’s a useful awareness-oriented goal.

Great writers who lived before the internet could afford to take longer to get to the point. They weren’t restricted by arbitrary character count limitations—implicit or explicit.

And they were forced to paint pictures in words alone. As such, they reached descriptive depths rarely seen online. And from those depths emerge characters that teach us more about ourselves than we could learn in any other medium.

Understanding people—the fundamental ingredient in any personal or professional pursuit—is probably the most practical knowledge you can have. And there's probably no better place to read detailed descriptions of people than fictional stores.

Anne Kreamer writes about several studies that build a business case for reading novels.

For instance, in fMRI studies of people reading fiction, neuroscientists detect activity in the pre-frontal cortex — a part of the brain involved with setting goals — when the participants read about characters setting a new goal. It turns out that when Henry James, more than a century ago, defended the value of fiction by saying that “a novel is a direct impression of life,” he was more right than he knew.

She also recommends several books. If I had to recommend one, it would be The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky lived more than 100 years ago, but he knew the same people we know.