20 November 2007

Nobody Reads Anymore

No, I don't simply mean the PR folks who still, for some inexplicable reason, manage to send the most irrelevant, impersonal, and downright stupid emails EVAH.

I mean these crazy kids today:

We know what young people are doing more of: watching television, surfing the Web, listening to their iPods, talking on cellphones, and instant-messaging their friends. But a new report released today by the National Endowment for the Arts makes clear what they're doing a lot less of: reading.

The report - a 99-page compendium of more than 40 studies by universities, foundations, business groups, and government agencies since 2004 - paints a dire picture of plummeting levels of reading among young people over the past two decades. Among the findings:

Only 30 percent of 13-year-olds read almost every day.
The number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004.
Almost half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 never read books for pleasure.
The average person between ages 15 and 24 spends 2 to 2 1/2 hours a day watching TV and 7 minutes reading.

"This is a massive social problem," NEA chairman Dana Gioia, said by phone from Washington. "We are losing the majority of the new generation. They will not achieve anything close to their potential because of poor reading."

One of the reasons cited for the dramatic decline in reading proficiency is the "all in the background" media consumption trends we're seeing among youth (and everyone else):
Indeed, the report suggests that multitasking is a factor. It found that more than half of middle and high school students use other media most or some of the time while reading, and that 20 percent of the time they spend reading they are also watching TV, playing video games, sending messages, or otherwise using a computer.

As communications professionals seek to strategically place their messages in all of these background sources of media we should also do our part to ensure that true literacy is not sacrificed as a result. We all know that reading skills are directly linked to writing and critical thinking skills. These are the skills people need to excel in this industry and countless others.

There are a lot of people in the "social media elite" who write incessantly about the many tools they use to consume and share information, and how they're now struggling with managing all this content and trying to filter out the noise to find what's truly valuable. Part of this discussion is just silly and a little vain, at least to me - they're trying to show that they can master all these tools and they're managing all this crazy stuff. But part of it is really sad as well - it's a veiled admission that some otherwise very smart people have lost some focus.

The people at the top of our profession shouldn't need a self-help book to develop a 7-point action plan to powerful greatness so they can outsource their lives. (Of course, at least it's a book.) They shouldn't need a 2.0-powered statistical thingamabob to show them where they spend their time and where they don't. And for Pete's sake, they shouldn't feel compelled to tell the world that they're active on a dozen different social networks and have a dozen different tools working at the same time. All that tells me is they have no idea what they should be doing, and they fail to see the difference between "clever" and "strategic."


mothergoosemouse said...

I have to admit that I'm unimpressed by the newer children's books (ranging from picture books all the way up to teen lit). Children's authors either go for the series angle (sadly, even Harry Potter) or the licensed character angle (I don't care if it's a book, it's still a book about BARBIE, bleah), and the writing is almost always awful.

And this is why I buy the picture books that I remember from my childhood and why I'm so glad I've saved all the chapter books that I had growing up. When my parents recently visited, my mother brought my boxed sets of Mary Poppins and The Borrowers. I had to explain to Tacy that those stories were books before they were movies.

Julie Pippert said...


This is why I just shrugged when parents asked, appalled, "Your kids (5 and 3) don't have a computer and can't use one yet?"

This is why I am not pleased that school cut a PE class (or art or music) to provide computer class for kindergarteners.

It's why we read. A lot.


It's not just kids or advertisers. It's parents.

I think we model this sort of thing, we meaning adults and parents.

I think what we do in the home can end up weighing more than other messages in many cases.

Using My Words