Wait, Wasn't Google Supposed To Have Destroyed Our Interest In Reading Books?

from the oops dept

For years, we've found it amusing when various technophobes or techno-pessimists would bemoan the fact that kids spent so much time online as compared to doing "real" things like reading books. This seemed odd to us, as there was a long period of time where the alternative was kids watching TV. It seems like having kids actively engaged in communicating with others through text is a great way to improve both reading and writing skills -- and there's been plenty of evidence to suggest that, in fact, kids writing skills are getting much better. And, now, the latest report finds that (despite Nick Carr's claim that the Google-era is killing our desire to read long form articles and books) more people are reading such things than just a few years ago.

Basically, the decades long trend of people (of all age groups and backgrounds) reading less seems to have been reversed. However, as Valleywag notes, the head of the National Endowment for the Arts refuses to accept the idea that the internet played a major role in the upsurge in reading. There certainly could be other factors -- and it wouldn't be at all surprising to find out a variety of different reasons for the higher reading rates, but it seems odd to out and out say the internet was a lot less important than other factors.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Chris Crum, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 5:53am

    Reading Anyway

    Perhaps many "non-readers" have realized that they're reading stuff online all the time and that books might not be so bad after all.

     

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  2.  
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    Comboman, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:17am

    Ryting Skillz

    Kidz ryting skillz r getin bettar? Writing more perhaps but certainly not better. Unlike with books, a lot of what kids read on the net is written by non-professional writers (in fact, a lot is written by other kids). They no longer get the re-enforcement of being exposed mainly to professionally written content with correct spelling, grammar and sentence structure, which leads to poor writing skills (which in turn is read by other kids and perpetuates the cycle).

     

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  3.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:22am

    Re: Ryting Skillz

    Maybe; maybe not. I often note that some of the "non-professional" writing seen online is vastly superior to the supposedly-professional writing appearing in books, magazines, newspapers, and journals. I don't discern a recognizable pattern which reliably predicts where good or bad writing will be found.

     

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  4.  
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    Mike (profile), Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:24am

    Re: Ryting Skillz

    Kidz ryting skillz r getin bettar?

    Silly mocking aside, you are simply incorrect. Studies have shown that kids' writing skills have gotten markedly better in the last few years. Part of it is that despite what older folks claim, most kids know when it's appropriate to use "slang" typing and when it's not.

    They no longer get the re-enforcement of being exposed mainly to professionally written content with correct spelling, grammar and sentence structure, which leads to poor writing skills (which in turn is read by other kids and perpetuates the cycle).

    Too bad the studies say otherwise. Why let facts get in the way of a good "the kids these days..." rant?

     

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  5.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:31am

    Re: Re: Ryting Skillz

    I don't know. 'Loose' instead of lose is pretty rampant.

     

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  6.  
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    Evil Mike, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Ryting Skillz

    "I don't know. 'Loose' instead of lose is pretty rampant."

    Yes, yes it is; and at time it bugs the crap out of me.

     

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  7.  
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    James Joyce, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:46am

    Ryting Skillz

    If we're judging by correct grammar and punctuation then even "professionally" written content is out of the question.

     

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  8.  
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    TDR, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:50am

    Actually, comboman, in many cases I've seen the opposite - writing on forums and messageboards that was every bit as good, if not better, than supposed "professional" writing.

     

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  9.  
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    hegemon13, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:54am

    Re: Ryting Skillz

    You are dead wrong.

    "Professional" writing is more about writing in a particular style than about writing skills. A journalist does not necessarily write good fiction. A fiction author might make a lousy technical writer.

    The best way to get better at writing is simply to do more of it. Today, kids are writing (and reading) more than ever, and you don't have to be "professional" to be competent. I am not a race car driver, but I can safely pilot my minivan on the highway.

     

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  10.  
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    Duane (profile), Jan 16th, 2009 @ 6:59am

    Ryting Skillz

    And to a certain extent, correct grammar and such are not that important. For instance in the original post, the person uses re-enforcement when, in fact, it should be reinforcement. The two words mean completely separate things, but we all got the idea.

    True story. For the longest time I thought "loose" for "lose" was some Canadian thing, because I couldn't imagine so many people using the word incorrectly.

     

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  11.  
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    inc, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 7:07am

    what's a book?

     

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  12.  
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    boost, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 7:56am

    oh no!!! No more long form?!

    Crap!

    I really love reading long, drawn out, and wordy articles and, actually, hate reading short, conscise(too lazy to spell check at the moment), and well thought out articles. I guess this is the end of an era.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 8:05am

    Technically Correct Writing

    will most likely be found in scientific journals, research papers, legal documents, engineering reports, and product instructions. (Sometimes blogs with active grammar nazis in the commentary)

    Books, in particular fiction, often use incorrect grammar, sentence fragments, misspelling, and other crimes against the language intentionally as a tool to develop the mood or to define a character or simply because that's how people speak. Journalists are often under the gun to get a story out and while they try to use proper english sometimes mistakes slip through the cracks when they aren't looked for, or aren't even a concern because again, that's how people speak.

    Writing skill isn't at all about grammar usage and spelling. It is about taking the ideas that are in your head and putting them in a form that other people can comprehend. Or about taking facts and organizing them coherently.

    I'm not a professional writer, but I would probably be fired if I couldn't write in a way that clearly expressed my ideas and the facts that I know. Many, many jobs today require emailing, writing reports, generating presentations, all of which require writing skills of some kind and that is what people who use the internet constantly will be good at.

     

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  14.  
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    slimcat (profile), Jan 16th, 2009 @ 8:15am

    From one of Mikes 'older folks'

    Anecdotal, I know, but... An interest in reading is instilled in a child primarily by the parent and it has been my experience that once that interest is there, it remains unaffected by tv, Google or anything else. My parents regularly read to me and my wife and I read to our children and grand children from the time they were able to sit up. Our kids and grand kids were/are all 'gifted' honor students not because there was anything particularly special about them but because we took an active interest in their education.

    The grand kids, 12-16 year-olds, enjoy reading books, watching movies on the tube, playing WoW and Halo, texting their friends (It has been demonstrated by many qualified people that there is absolutely nothing wrong with texting slang. All you pedantic pricks get offa my lawn) and Googleing for new books and free stuff by their favorite authors.

    ~Mike: "... what older folks claim.."? You need a quantifier in there. Something like 'some' or 'many'. We 'older folks' aren't all stuck in the '50s, or even the '40s. ;) By the way, I'm, "...will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64..." years old.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 8:18am

    No evidence is presented that the internet played a role in the reversal of a downward reading and writing skills trend. Lack of negative evidence is not proof of the positive.

     

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  16.  
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    KJ, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 8:30am

    I hope Mike's writing style isn't the measuring stick

    Challenge: find at least 8 grammar and style errors in Mike's original post?

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 8:36am

    Publishing

    has largely destroyed my interest in reading books, certainly novels anyway

     

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  18.  
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    MJones, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 8:40am

    Re: Reading Anyway

    I tend to think the reason may be that reading stops being a chore when there is a pleasant goal at the end. Having read enough, eventually it becomes as natural as breathing, and this means that ANY content becomes more accessible to the reader.

     

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  19.  
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    Somatika, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 8:41am

    Don't lose your head; keep it loose!

    Don't lose your head; keep it loose!

     

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  20.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jan 16th, 2009 @ 8:49am

    The Internet and Reading

    I would actually venture to say that the internet could have played a very large part in the upsurge of reading.
    It has allowed groups of people who read obscure genres to get together easier and pass around suggestions. Sites such as Amazon have made it easier to buy books you would never find in your local libraries due to limits on their cash flow and space allocation. Finding reader reviews is also much easier so you can see a lot of people who liked similar books to you say a certain book is good, you are more likely to get the book. I would indeed venture to say that the internet could have had a very large impact over many other reasons.

     

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  21.  
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    winterfreez, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 9:02am

    Re: Technically Correct Writing

    I agree 100% with this. Syaing writing is about grammar and spelling is like saying painting is about colors. It just doesn't begin to cover the subject.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 9:03am

    I blame harry potter for increased readership.

     

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  23.  
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    Jesse, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 9:50am

    The republican party is a bigger enemy of literacy than the internet.

     

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  24.  
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    John Doe, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 10:01am

    Can you say Kindle?

    Maybe Amazon is countering Google's death blow to reading?

     

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  25.  
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    snowburn14, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 11:33am

    Re: oh no!!! No more long form?!

    That you seem to think an article could not be both long and wordy, and well thought out at the same time is exactly the point the technophobes are getting at. While I'm not making the claim myself - I can see a common sense argument for either side, and I've yet to see a study on this subject that was convincing one way or the other - they would argue that the proliferation of brief snippets of information on any given topic prevents people from being exposed to all the additional information that they used to have no choice but to read through to find the nuggets they were looking for. Of course, the counter-argument is that the time wasted on "irrelevant" information could better have been spent reading a few (or a lot) more brief bits of targeted information.
    What I'd like to see, is a study on how many adults still read Shakespeare and Plato after they are finished with school, or at least as something for their own enrichment and not an assignment - something that actually involves reasoning and thought.
    And for anyone who is tempted to point out a run-on sentence or what have you, keep in mind that I'm writing this on my lunch break, so I don't have the luxury of proof-reading ;)

     

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  26.  
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    TX CHL Instructor (profile), Jan 16th, 2009 @ 11:39am

    Reading?

    Reading (especially recreational reading) has ALWAYS been a minority activity, and always will be. Same for thinking
    --
    www.chl-tx.com Thanks to the Chicago Politician with the Blank Resume, my business is BOOMING!

     

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  27.  
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    Matt Bennett (profile), Jan 16th, 2009 @ 12:13pm

    So imagine there was a routinely tracked ratio of the average persons (written words of communication)/(spoken words of communication) in a day. Obviously such a ratio exists, I just don't think it's been tracked. I am sure that in the last ten years that ratio has gone up by an order of magnitude for the general population due to things like email, chat, texts, and social networking. It wouldn't surprise me to see that that number has even become >1 for a significant minority of the population (a good deal of white collar professionals). THAT, I'm sure, has basically never been true before.

    This will cease to be true again when speach recognition, or possibly thought recognition technologies mature. Of course, I do think that's still a ways off and at that point, it could be argued that writing would actually be somewhat obsolete.

     

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  28.  
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    LadyGrey, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 12:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Ryting Skillz

    As are "would of," should of" and "could of" instead of "would've," "should've" and "could've." As a college English faculty member,that combo is one of my pet peeves. It speaks to a problem in *many* areas, including verbal enunciation, basic comprehension of the concept of a contraction, and a fundamental unwillingness to actually THINK about what is being written (insofar as the writer can't even identify, _with the aid of a spell-checker_, that there is even a problem. I've had several students consistently turning in compositions with those particular contractions. I bring them up (the word issues, not the students!) in class, and the class members, as a large group, do not see the problem .
    I'm not trying to weigh in on whether or not the World Wide Web has been a good influence or a bad influence; I only know that we write what we read. That's not to say that I haven't read some pretty bad writing by "professionals" in the field, but the likelihood of an editor/proofreader checking the average student's website is slim to none, while print materials (except those from vanity presses) have had that extra service to improve the quality of the materials contained therein.

     

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  29.  
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    DanC, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 8:22pm

    Re:

    Processed tree carcasses, glue, and ink.

     

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  30.  
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    Rose M. Welch, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 12:34am

    Roflmao...

    ...I just paid $14.95 plus tax for a book that's been available on-line for free for years... It was 'Agent To The Stars' by John Scalzi.

    Can't you see how Google has totally destroyed my desire to read real books?

     

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