With the rise of social media and smartphone use, something else is happening. We are all reading fewer books than we once did. Some people are worried about what this means for the future of literature and, well, our brains. But is it true that we are really reading less?
Reading has been an important part of the human experience for thousands of years, but believe it or not, that’s not a long time on the evolutionary time scale. Before the internet, it made sense to read long texts in a linear fashion, but that’s now changing as people are adapting to skimming shorter texts on their computers or phones. But what does this mean for the future of books?
What is literary reading?
Literary reading is, quite simply, the reading of any literature. This includes novels, short stories, poetry, and plays.
Are we reading less?
The rate at which Americans are reading literature for fun is down around 14% from the early 1980s. This doesn’t necessarily mean we are reading less, however. Many people still have to read for school or work. Then there are all the words, sentences, and messages we read on the internet from emails to texts to tweets. Some people believe that this means we are possibly reading more individual words than ever. It’s just being done in a different way.
And this is changing our brains?
Some neuroscientists believe that scanning shorter texts the way we do on the internet, often jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink, is actually changing the wiring in our brains. We are becoming better at searching for key terms and scanning for information, but this means it can become more difficult to read a longer text all the way through without missing major points.
Join the conversation in your classroom with KQED Learn:
KQED Learn puts media literacy front and center. Whether discussing classroom-ready topics using KQED’s video series “Above the Noise,” or engaging in collaborative inquiry leading to original, media based responses, students are developing the skills they need to be successful communicators in today’s world.
Want to bring Above the Noise into the classroom? Check out our lesson plan other support materials:
Reading, watching or listening to a well-told story about people undergoing trauma or persecution can certainly build compassion. But just telling the story, no matter how compelling, may still fall short of providing audiences with a visceral glimpse into other people’s realities, an understanding of what they’re seeing and feeling that’s impactful enough to inspire empathy and action.