Thursday, November 29, 2007

Electronic Reading vs Print Reading

nea logo The National Endowment for the Arts has concluded a three year study on reading trends in the US. The study, entitled To Read or Not to Read was released earlier this month.

The reports concludes that

  • voluntary reading rates are dropping
  • reading skills are "worsening" among teens
  • adults are becoming less proficient readers

Pretty grim news for people like me who's life is all about books and reading.

It was with some trepidation that I downloaded the 98 very dry, dull pages and began to read them. Just as I was beginning to nod off I came across this little gem:

2007 towerOpinions aside, there is a shortage of scientific research on the effects of screen reading—not only on long-term patterns of news consumption, but more importantly, on the development of young minds and young readers. (A good research question is whether the hyperlinks, pop-up windows, and other extra-textual features of screen reading can sharpen a child’s ability to perform sustained reading, or whether they impose unhelpful distractions.) (To Read or Not to Read p53)

That woke me up. I decided I didn't need to torture myself anymore and deleted the report from my machine.

There is an assumption here that I violently disagree with -- the only reading worth studying or reporting on is a printed page in a book.

So not true!

My email, RSS feeds and blogs provide me with more reading material in one day than I used to get in an entire month.

I could tell that this is all work related and not in any sense voluntary. I would be lying.

Everyday, I follow links that take me to very strange places. Who hasn't had the experience of becoming intrigued with some weird factoid and going off on a reading tangent totally unrelated to anything! In my particular case if someone sends me a Facebook link it is very possible that an hour later I am making new friends - after reading all about them. I don't even want to discuss YouTube!

Are they unhelpful distractions? Who knows for sure. What we do know (from experience) is that those distractions very often keep us doing sustained reading. AND we are in fact reading things we probably never would have had access to or read any other way. Say what you will, it is still reading. And it is not exactly unpopular.

Look around any Starbucks and count the number of people typing on laptops, PDAs and cellphones. Count those reading newspapers. If they are not reading, what exactly are they doing?

The NEA is alarmed and gloomy about reading in America. I am not. Call me a crazy optimist; but the evidence of my own eyes suggests that reading is alive and well and maybe even on the upstroke.

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