Decline in readers a worrying trend

It’s amazing how our brains interpret little figures and symbols inked onto sheets of tree, connecting us to worlds and times unknown and mysterious.

With each turn of a page, it is as if the author is reaching out to hold a hand.

But it seems that no one is willing to reach out to hold back.

Literary readership across the U.S. has been on a steady decline for the past few decades.

According to the National Endowment of Arts, the percentage of American adults who read literature fell to an all-time low three years ago. The Pew Research Center’s findings for the same year were similar.

(Nicole Goss / The Poly Post)

However, statistically measuring this data and analyzing it requires caution.

When speaking of statistics with increase and decline in populations, compositional effects must be considered. 

For example, as Caleb Crain wrote for The New Yorker, if a survey found that the average American eats fewer French fries than a decade ago, this doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that Americans have eaten fewer French fries.

It could be that the population’s composition has changed, and therefore, the people who eat more French fries have decreased.

While many have used the compositional effects argument to explain the trend of decreased readership, their explanation is at fault. If readership affected only the poor, the young or the uneducated, there may be a point.  But all categories and subcategories have been affected, and percentages of readers for all groups have plummeted in the last decade.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scholar Sherry Turkle, an expert in the subject, told the Guardian that new innovations and technologies do not directly cause society to err, but it’s the collective negligence and ignoring of what we “disrupt or diminish while innovating.”

We are often so captivated by our innovations and new technologies, we often forget their possible downfalls.

Students who are used to the fast-paced reading on social media are actively avoiding denser literary works — and the subtle results are quite alarming.

Students are less able to thoroughly and sufficiently analyze the complexities and arguments made in a literary piece. While it may not seem important, a society that cannot analyze lengthy academic books will quite surely have difficulty reading important legal documents or intentionally confusing questions at the voting booth.

Moreover, the tendency to “skim read” has become ever more popular. Ziming Liu’s research at San Jose State University focuses on this new norm, citing that “word spotting” and “sample reading” the first line of a paragraph has become a substitute for actually reading.

This results in less time for the brain to produce critical thoughts or form opinions about the text.

Furthermore, Tami Katzir’s research at Haifa University found that some of the effects have implications of less growth for empathy.

For the lack of reading to simply become a byproduct of the technological revolution, more is lost than gained.

Its effects spread to all genders, races and ages with distressing hints of a grim future.

Uneducated masses  are unable to make sense of the information or demagoguery thrown at them, and with less empathy for the people around them. It’s truly amazing how our brains interpret little figures and symbols inked onto sheets of tree, allowing me to reach you at this moment, expressing my voice.

At least reaching the ones reading.

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