Why have we stopped reading? In our typical SAS High School setting, many students can’t remember the last time they read a printed book or literary text that wasn’t for an English class. The last time there was a shared enthusiasm for a piece of fiction was Harry Potter in the 5th grade. While I was always someone who found the activity more stress-relieving than stress-inducing, lately, my lethargy for opening a book before going to bed has been increasing and being replaced by browsing my phone for ages and in turn forgetting to sleep. And this isn’t a trend only pertaining to SAS; a study by National Literacy shows that in 2019, just 26% of under-18s spent time reading each day. This is the lowest daily level recorded since the charity first surveyed children’s reading habits in 2005.
It was one of my resolutions this year to restart my frequent reading. When I talked about this goal to my friends, they were surprised, amused, or lamented how they haven’t read since middle school. We haven’t been preached to about reading quite as heavily as we were in our scholastic fair days, begging the question of why the encouragement of reading has decreased so much, especially in the last couple of decades or so. The pursuit of fiction is apparently only enjoyed by proactive readers who have a deep passion for the art of reading. Being borderline archaic activity among my peers, it’s reasonable to say that reading seems to have lost its appeal over time.
” In 2019 just 26% of under-18s spent some time each day reading. This is the lowest daily level recorded since the charity first surveyed children’s reading habits in 2005.”national Literacy
One big factor is academic pressure. The further we progress in our education, stress increases and our free time decreases, which puts many of our childhood hobbies and pastimes on the chopping block. Coming home after 8 hours of school plus extracurriculars and staring at the prospect of ploughing through unending homework, it’s much more enticing to resort to phone browsing, eating and sleeping, or any other activity that requires less brainpower. It doesn’t help that our teachers give us 15 reading assignments per week that we have to heavily annotate and reflect on. Why add to the list of things to read? Mille Thrane, a sophomore at SAS said “reading today is tiring for most of us because we are forced to read what others want and when we get to choose what we want to read, we only get a specific amount of time to read like 15 minutes. On top of that teachers make us reflect on a book more than actually just reading it.” I have to agree with Mille completely here; even though I try to dedicate a modicum of my free time to reading. Studying a book is not the same as just reading and actually enjoying a book.
Another factor is the constant presence of technology in our lives. Reading used to be the primary source of information, and laying our hands on a newly minted book a source of joy. TVs entered our lives with their powers of sight, sound and motion, but they still respectfully remained in our living rooms. There were rules when you could watch or not. However, the drastic increase in online engagement and content has inevitably decreased the demand for books over time and has had a significant impact on how we consume content. The statistics are grim. A study by the University College London tracked 11,000 children from their birth in 2000, found that “social media could be detracting from reading and homework, with a potential knock-on effect on their literacy.” This suggests a link between time spent on social media and levels of literacy. Similarly, the American Psychological Association recently published research finding that less than 20 percent of US teens “report reading a book, magazine, or newspaper daily for pleasure,” yet more than 80 percent say “they use social media every day.” Social media has become inescapable in our daily lives, its use in both the workplace and in our personal lives now normalised. Compared to their cousin, the TV, smartphones and their firehose of content have now invaded every waking moment of our lives and every available space. How has the rise of social media, creeping into all aspects of our lives and eating into our leisure time, affected our reading habits?
A theory originating in the 19th Century known as ‘technological determinism’ states that technological changes are primarily responsible for social and cultural changes. An avid reader, Nandini Srinivasan, a sophomore nods her head in agreement as she says “its pretty obvious, I used to read 2 hours before bed every day before I got my phone. Now, it’s much easier to go on Instagram or talk to my friends rather than put in the effort to pick up a book, even though I want to read.”
“I used to read 2 hours before bed every day before I got my phone, it’s much easier to go on Instagram or talk to my friends rather than put in the effort to pick up a book now, even though I want to read.”Nandini Srinivasan, Sophomore
It’s important to question the value of frequent reading and the consequences of decreased reading rates. Research has shown that reading makes us feel better and more positive. Science has shown that reading has some amazing health benefits, including helping with depression, cutting stress, and reducing the chances of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. Can we make an attempt to not surround ourselves with our screens? Should we? Or is a stress reliever just a stress reliever, whether it is our phones or any other form of entertainment. I’m still sticking to my New Year’s resolution, but I suppose it’s really just a matter of ‘to each their own!’