This is from a lecture delivered to the students of West Point military academy, by the essayist and critic William Deresiewicz, who implores his audience to value solitude and sustained concentration in an age of easy distraction. He gives two advantages of reading a book over Twittering (or more generally the aimless diversions of social media):
First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself. Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today. Even if they merely reflect the conventional wisdom of their own day, they say something different from what you hear all the time. But the great books, the ones you find on a syllabus, the ones people have continued to read, don’t reflect the conventional wisdom of their day. They say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought. They were revolutionary in their own time, and they are still revolutionary today.
I think that's pretty good. The whole thing is worth your time. It's quite bold: Deresiewicz tells his audience that they will, inevitably, find themselves working for mediocrities, because the army, like any bureaucracy, tends to promote such people who have no skills other than the ability to follow and keep routines. But that's why it's more important than ever to cultivate original thoughts, via concentration and introspection, and retain independence of mind. All this is argued in beautifully lucid sentences:
How will you find the strength and wisdom to challenge an unwise order or question a wrongheaded policy? What will you do the first time you have to write a letter to the mother of a slain soldier? How will you find words of comfort that are more than just empty formulas?
These are truly formidable dilemmas, more so than most other people will ever have to face in their lives, let alone when they’re 23. The time to start preparing yourself for them is now. And the way to do it is by thinking through these issues for yourself—morality, mortality, honor—so you will have the strength to deal with them when they arise. Waiting until you have to confront them in practice would be like waiting for your first firefight to learn how to shoot your weapon. Once the situation is upon you, it’s too late. You have to be prepared in advance. You need to know, already, who you are and what you believe: not what the Army believes, not what your peers believe (that may be exactly the problem), but what you believe.
He doesn't mention Abu Ghraib. But perhaps he didn't feel needed to.