March 5, 2021

Opinion: We need to read more books

What’s the first feeling that comes to mind when you hear the word, “books”?

Perhaps boredom? Excitement? Anger? Or, perhaps you are indifferent to reading in general. 

With the explosion of social media and the increasingly well-made movies, TV shows, and video games that are coming out, books don’t seem to be at the height of popularity in American society. 

What is the current state of reading popularity?

Books have not really made up “water cooler talk” in recent years. Ever notice that people are more likely to talk about the latest Netflix show rather than some chapters from a book?

To clarify, there are still millions of Americans that consider themselves book lovers. Reading books hasn’t died completely, but it is nowhere near as mainstream as some of its counterparts.

Based on a graph created by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the amount of leisure reading has been dropping since 2003.

Image courtesy of The New Yorker.

How did interest in books drop?

The decline in book popularity is a complex situation that is fueled by many factors. 

According to an article by the American Psychological Association, less than 20% of teenagers are reading daily for pleasure. In addition, 80% of teens reported using social media daily. 

By this point, many people have heard the “goldfish” analogy in regard to human attention spans. For those that don’t, in 2015, Microsoft conducted research that claimed that humans had an attention span of eight seconds while goldfish had nine. Seems quite sad at first, but this has recently been labeled as a myth.

It’s not that human attention spans are shortening in general, people are just becoming more stimulated by visual elements. For example, instead of picking up a book on civil rights, younger generations are more inclined to swipe through an Instagram post that summarizes it. It arguably makes the information more digestible and convenient to learn. 

The thought of picking up a book can be boring for some, because from an earlier age, people are inadvertently conditioned to associate books with “work” and “academics.” 

Assignments that center around, “Read these three chapters before the test tomorrow morning,” are turning something that should be an entertaining pastime into a stressful chore. As kids go through years of this in grade school, they become conditioned to see reading as work.

This in turn is mitigated by teachers when they provide rewards for completing books. 

This falls into a dangerous area, which is incentivizing what should be normal activities. Reading is something that should be both entertaining and intellectually rewarding, unconditionally.

William M. Ferriter. Photo courtesy of Solution Tree.

William M. Ferriter, a North Carolinian teacher and Solution Tree author, wrote an article that explored the impact that reading programs like AR (Accelerated Reading) and BOOK IT! are having on students.  He argues that while these programs’ goals are in good faith, they are actually creating something very damaging. 

“Once you start incentivizing behaviors, your intended targets—young readers, in this case—shift from working on social norms to working on market norms,” Ferriter said. “Translation:  Students go from reading for fun to reading for stuff—and if they’re not sufficiently motivated by the stuff you’ve got to give, they stop reading completely.”

Why should we care?

While video games offer benefits like improved hand-eye coordination, reading can also lead to the development of important skills.

After all the events of 2020, the ability to empathize with others has proven to be paramount in fostering a happy society. It just so happens that books are a great way to instill that social skill.

An article published by Bilingual Kidspot had this to say on the matter, “Reading helps you with the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, detect how they are feeling and experience it yourself.”

Reading books is also known to help prevent the severity of memory loss as people get older. By reading various plot lines in a book and reflecting on all that has happened, the reader is exercising their memory muscles, strengthening it for the future.

Books also offer a wealth of information that can not be as easily contained in other mediums. Earlier, it was mentioned that younger generations are more inclined to consume all their news and information from social feeds due to convenience. 

The problem is that a 10-slide Instagram post can only present so much information on a topic. For instance, no matter how detailed a social post may seem, there is just no way that it can capture the full depth and brevity of something like civil rights, or climate change.

This could lead someone to form a strong opinion about a topic that they actually do not know a lot about because they have only been consuming surface level information. Do not rinse yourself in knowledge, submerge into it.

The biggest challenge is not completing a book, it is finding a book that truly connects with you. That is the key to becoming a regular reader. Whether that is a nonfiction book about math, or a sweeping epic narrative.

Reinvigorating books in American society starts with the individual. In addition to reading more, people should be open about the books that they have been reading or have read. 

People often underestimate the influence that they have over others. If someone sees that other people are regularly reading and completing books, they will most likely pick up the activity as well. America has, and always will, live around social trends.

  • Robert Cumberlander is the Editor-in-Chief of The Chimes and a junior at Capital University, majoring in Film and Media Production with a minor in Entrepreneurship.

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