The American reading habit has been reported to be on the decline. According to Ingraham, a journalist for the Washington Post, an average American took more than 2hours and 45 minutes watching television, or almost ten times the time they devoted to reading every day in 2017. This is a major concern since reading enables people to understand complex issues as well as develop critical thinking skills. As such, the new generation may be less informed in the future if the current trend in reading habits is not addressed. Hardy, a Senior Editor of the American School Board Journal, asserted that the decline in reading habits among all demographics is a sign of imminent cultural crisis, and literary culture, as well as literacy, could continue to worsen. In order to get a clear picture, this paper unveils the reasons behind the declining reading habit or culture in the US.
According to an article written by for World Atlas website by Amber Parona in 2017, the US ranked 22nd in a list topped by India in reading habits. While India spends an average of 10 hours 42 minutes in reading per week, an American spends 5 hours 42 minutes per week in reading. As shocking for the US as this could be, the country spends highly on books and reading materials each year. The US ranked 19th in the recreational use of the internet and 6th in watching television. As the average number of hours spent on reading reduced, the average time spend on the digital means of entertainment increased. According to the global literacy rankings, the US ranked 7th in a list topped by Finland, followed by Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland (Strauss). The decreasing rate of the reading culture in the US has shockingly led to the country being ranked 126th globally in literacy levels, according to an article written by James Burton for World Atlas in 2018. It is appalling how a country such as the US whose universities occupy most top spots in the world rankings can fall that low in literacy levels as well as the reading culture. Certainly, there must be a reason why this culture can be boosted because the future of this country depends on it.
One reason for the decline in reading habits is that most teens, around 80 percent, spend more time on social media per day than they spend reading, and only 20 percent of the teens read a book or newspaper for pleasure daily (Sliwa). Teens in 2010 were reported to have spent more time online than on traditional media like books; hence, the assertion that digital media has displaced time previously used in previous generations reading (Sliwa). Despite advances in technology where books can be accessed through electronic devices, reading has still declined over the years in America (Sliwa). Digital media has simplified how people switch from one digital activity to another and has made it difficult for the current generation to focus longer or read a long text (Sliwa).
Hardy (2) also argued that the decline in reading habits is a result of the digital revolution, growth in digital entertainment, and electronic alternatives to reading. But supporters of the digital media argue that kids could actually be reading more through the use of new media (Hardy 2). In connection to the rising digital media trend, Hardy (3) attributed the decline in reading habits to the failure by schools to embrace the new online literacy. Schools weren't valuing students reading out of school and have failed to connect that to the school life. The argument has been that no reading takes place in the online realm as students spend most of their time emailing, playing games, or downloading stuff. Hardy (4) argued that visual technologies are habituating and seductive and thus limits the reading time.
There are various types of reading through which readership can be determined. Reading for leisure or for recreational purposes is a voluntary, self-selected, independent reading of a text for personal and social purposes. This type of reading can take place anytime, anywhere, including within or outside school. It has a wide range of reading sources, materials, or genres, including fiction, non-fiction, comic books, newspapers, graphic novels, magazines, e-books, blogs, and websites, among others. This type of reading is intrinsically and socially motivated. Intensive reading is classroom-based, involves long texts and can be assessed for specific learning objectives. Extensive readings are similar to intensive readings except for the fact that they are not classroom-based and are not tested. Skimming is a quick reading style aimed at grasping the general meanings of ideas of texts. Scanning resembles skimming except the fact that it targets specific information. These types of readings are all applicable when determining the reading cultures of countries. However, leisure reading is more beneficial for a nation because there is no coercion and pressure while reading. A country's general population can boost its literacy skills through a wide leisurely reading because the motivations behind it are varied and self-imposed. In a country like the US, it can arguably be said that the current generation favors other types of entertainment through other sources other than reading.
Another reason for the reduced reading is cultural messages from other media (Hardy 5). Cultural messages that bind the society were once conveyed almost by books only but are now available in other media such as TV and movies. As such, people lose the capacity to imagine, and the imagination nurtured by reading. Popular culture is also a threat to reading as popular media poses a threat to reading books.
Caleb Crain, an author, and a New Yorker columnist, pointed out in 2018 that the reduction in American adult concern on whether children are reading enough has contributed to the reduction in reading habits. Crain argued that children under social and economic pressure to excel in school reflect the pleasure of reading amounts, but the reduction in parents' concern is a challenge. Further, it is hard to quantify or give a gold standard on how much reading is considered enough.
Crain also highlighted that compositional effects are also a cause of the decline in reading habits. For instance, as people enter the workforce, their leisure time is reduced, which consequently reduces their reading time. Digital media and television remain the primary force that is distracting the population from books (Crain).
The effects of a poor reading culture can be detrimental to a country, and this means, if the trend continues in the US, then the future does not look good for this country. The adverse effects of low or poor reading culture include cultural insensitivity or ignorance, low reduced national literacy levels, and poor language skills. A country that does not read becomes limited in a wide scope, including but not limited to social progress, international understanding, innovation, creativity, and intelligence.
In conclusion, the declining reading culture in the US can be attributed to numerous reasons, as has been discussed in this paper. The statistics on the American literacy levels and readership are shocking. The majority of the younger generation, because of easy access to mobile devices, spends more time online than they spend on books, newspapers, and magazines. The digital revolution has provided Americans with entertainment alternatives like video games, electronic forms of reading, and much more. Popular cultural messages are available on other sources like television and movies, and this has shifted people's attention from books. The American adults have reduced their concern on whether or not their children are reading enough. Compositional effects have also contributed, and the adverse effects of reduced reading habits cannot be overemphasized. If the reading culture is not promoted soon, the country's future is directed in the wrong direction.
Burton, James. "List Of Countries By Literacy Rate." Worldatlas, 2018, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-highest-literacy-rates-in-the-world.html.
Crain, Caleb. "Why We Don't Read, Revisited." The New Yorker, 14 June 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/why-we-dont-read-revisited.
Hardy, Lawrence. "Forgetting How to Read, or Just Re-Locating It?" Education Digest, vol. 70, no. 6, Feb. 2005, pp. 33-41. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=16094960&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Ingraham, Christopher. "Analysis | Leisure Reading in the U.S. Is at an All-Time Low." The Washington Post, 27 Apr. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/29/leisure-reading-in-the-u-s-is-at-an-all-time-low/.
Pariona, Amber. "Which Countries Read The Most?". Worldatlas, 2017, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-countries-that-read-the-most.html.
Sliwa, Jim. "Teens Today Spend More Time on Digital Media, Less Time Reading." American Psychological Association, 28 Aug. 2018, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/08/teenagers-read-book
Strauss, Valerie. "Most Literate Nation In The World? Not the US, New Ranking Says". The Independent, 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/most-literate-nation-in-the-world-not-the-us-new-world-ranking-says-a6922996.html.
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