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.

FOR EDUCATORS

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Can Virtual Reality Make Us More Compassionate?

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.

SOURCES:

Children, Teens, and Reading 

The long, steady decline of literary reading

Who doesn’t read books in America?

Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

How Is Tech Changing the Way We Read? 13 November,2018Annelise Wunderlich

Author

Annelise Wunderlich

Annelise is a documentary filmmaker, educator, and Youth Participation Manager at KQED. Her films have aired on national and regional public television outlets, and she teaches film studies at Diablo Valley College. She loves very spicy food, and traveling to places where people make it.

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