Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Decline of reading?

On November 19th 2007 the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced the release of To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, (PDF format 3.32 MB; 98 pages) a new and comprehensive analysis of reading patterns in the United States. To Read or Not To Read gathers statistics from more than 40 studies on the reading habits and skills of children, teenagers, and adults. The compendium reveals recent declines in voluntary reading and test scores alike, exposing trends that have severe consequences for American society.

Among the key findings:
- Americans are reading less
- Americans are reading less well
- The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications

On January 16th 2008, a new study (in the UK) overturns the common assumption that the "Google Generation" - youngsters born or brought up in the Internet age - is the most web-literate. The first ever virtual longitudinal study carried out by the CIBER research team at University College London claims that, although young people demonstrate an apparent ease and familiarity with computers, they rely heavily on search engines, view rather than read and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web. The report Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future (PDF format; 1.67MB; 35 pages) also shows that research-behaviour traits that are commonly associated with younger users – impatience in search and navigation, and zero tolerance for any delay in satisfying their information needs – are now becoming the norm for all age-groups, from younger pupils and undergraduates through to professors.

Steven Berlin Johnson (1968) is an american popular science author and he's widely known for his book "Everything bad is good for you: How today's popular culture is actually making us smarter"; Johnson is very sceptical about about the decline of reading described in the 2 studies and he wrote it in The Guardian:

"We've been hearing about the decline of reading for so long now that it's amazing a contemporary teenager can even recognise a book, much less read one. The US (where I am) seems to be cycling through yet another "Johnny can't read" mini-panic, sparked by the release of a National Endowment for the Arts study, called To Read Or Not To Read, which chronicles in exhaustive statistical detail the waning of literary culture and its dire consequences for society. Newspapers dutifully editorialised about America's literacy crisis.

It's the sort of "our kids in peril" story - right up there with threats of MySpace predators - that plays well as a three-minute television newsbite or a three-paragraph op-ed piece. But if you actually read the report, what you find are some startling omissions - omissions that ultimately lead to a heavily distorted view of the Google generation and its prospects." full article

Director (Sunil Iyengar) of the Office of Research & Analysis at the United States' National Endowment for the Arts and former director (Mark Bauerlein) replied to Steven Johnson:

"Steven Johnson diminished the significance of reading problems in the Britain and the United States, and misrepresented our research into the issue (Dawn of the digital natives, February 7). His biggest error was to assert that "in almost every study [the US National Endowment for the Arts] city, screen-based reading is excluded from the data." full article

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