You’ve probably heard someone say that reading is on the decline. Kids aren’t reading like they used to. Neither are adults. Because of this, the literary industry has suffered. Though their monetary losses can be large (and are usually made up for by their bestsellers, think Harry Potter series), the worse impact is on people.
Reading expands the mind. You imagine the world that a piece of literature presents. You extrapolate from that world. Your brain is active when you read. It’s passive when watching TV, which is one of the major reasons for the reduction in reading.
In Reading at Risk, results from a 17,000 individual Survey of Public Participation in the Arts were presented. As a meaningful activity, reading has decreased, especially among young people. Amidst television, Netflix, and all of social media, literature is increasingly taking a backseat.
I’m not a technophobe. I’m a Netflix binge-watching fiend, and I tend to check Facebook once a day. I realize these activities impede on my reading. I have multiple piles of books I’ve yet to read, and while I normally polish off a book a week, this last novel has taken me about a month. Trying to watch all of “Scrubs” before it was booted from Netflix played a part. (At least most of my time watching “Scrubs” was on my spin bike.)
However, as a typically avid reader and as a writer, I find it unsettling how much literature has faded. Without literature it’s much easier to remain ignorant, and with ignorance comes a repetition of mistakes, a lack of imagination and innovation, and less understanding of the world, including other cultures and organisms.
From the survey, there were ten key findings:
- “The Percentage of adult Americans reading literature has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years.”
Nowadays, less than half of American adults read.
- “The decline in literary reading parallels a decline in total book reading.”
For this point, literary writing is separated from more commercial books. Both literary books and commercial novels are being read less, however literary books rate of reading are decreasing more rapidly than commercial novels.
- “The rate of decline in literary reading is accelerating.”
More people are reading less at a faster rate than twenty years ago.
- “Women read more literature than men do, but literary reading by both groups is declining at significant rates.”
While many people would love to blame the education system on the declining literary reading rate, it’s more accurate to blame people themselves. Individuals used to read James Joyce, Henry David Thoreau, and William Faulkner for pleasure. In today’s world, the number of people who recognize those names is diminishing. Added to that, an increasing number of light and shallow commercial novels are being written. There’s a misconception, or perhaps it’s no longer a misconception, that peoples’ attention spans are too short for the deeper meaning novels, those books that give you a headache as you attempt to comprehend them. People want a fast read.
- “Literary reading is declining among whites, African Americans, and Hispanics.”
The decrease in literature does not discriminate.
- “Literary reading is declining among all education levels.”
Though those who are more educated read more than those who are less educated, the reading rate is diminishing across the board.
- “Literary reading is declining among all age groups.”
From ages eighteen to over seventy-five, again there’s no discrimination.
I have to wonder how adults reading less effect children. Parents have the responsibility to teach their kids how to read. If parents spend little or no time reading, how can they instill the necessity of reading in their children?
- “The steepest decline in literary reading is in the youngest age groups.”
Young adults went from reading the most literature to reading the least.
- “The decline in literary reading foreshadows an erosion in cultural and civic participation.”
People who read are more likely to be involved in charity, sports, politics, and art.
- “The decline in reading correlates with increased participation in a variety of electronic media, including the Internet, video games, and portable digital devices.”
Having so many alternatives, shifts peoples’ attentions away from reading. Just like with trying to get published, having so much noise out there makes it difficult for people to focus on any one thing.
Based on these findings, it’s easy to see a dismal future. If the rapid rate of reading decline continues, reading as a pastime may vanish. However, despite these findings, I have hope for the literary world. More people are receiving some sort of postsecondary education than in the past, and unlike the fades of social media, books tend to last. Maybe not the newest novel in a twenty-some book detective series, but the great books. Plus, anytime a bestseller rises among the flood of literature, people begin to read more.
Most importantly, the future is unpredictable. We can try to figure out what’s going to happen down the line, but ultimately, we don’t know until we get there. Who knows? Maybe reading will make a massive comeback.
What do you think about the decline in reading?
(Photo courtesy of Patrick Correia.)