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Is Reading Dead?

November 2nd, 2007 by Bob Bly

When I was a teenager, a favorite activity was to lose oneself in reading books, and in our spare time — mainly on weekends — we could sit for hours with the Lord of the Rings or the Foundation Trilogy.

I thought Harry Potter had reawakened the passion for reading in today’s generation, but apparently not.

According to an article in Fuel (11/07, p. 2), the average 15 to 19-year old reads an average of just 7 minutes — yes, only 7 minutes — per day on weekends.

Is literacy doomed? Are we raising a generation of ignorant kids who know much more about Gears of War than they do about World War II?

Does knowing things — and being able to read and understand a text — matter in today’s hyperlinked, Google-driven age?


This entry was posted on Friday, November 2nd, 2007 at 7:53 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

46 responses about “Is Reading Dead?”

  1. Doug Emerson said:

    Being close to you in age Bob, perhaps the reason we read more and presumably our peers read more as youths, is that books and occasional educational TV programming were the only sources of information.

    My children don’t read books like I did, but I consider them to be knowledgeable about many subject areas. Internet, particularly video and a massive TV program menu have undoubtedly replaced the previous need to read books.

    For the majority of people, reading is not an enjoyable experience. Not sure whether they lack concentration, have weak imaginations or poor discipline.

    It doesn’t matter to me what the reasons are; the group just doesn’t like to read.

    The good news is that the opportunity to find information and entertainment elsewhere is abundant and knowledge access is easy, if sought.

    Seven minutes may be enough?

  2. Bob Bly said:

    According to an article in this month’s Writer’s Digest, the average American reads seven books a year, and people age 50 and older read more than young people.

  3. David Polley said:

    I believe curiosity and literacy start at home. My second grader has been exposed to books since infancy. Her school emphasizes and rewards kids for reading 20 minutes a day at home. We allow her 2 hours of “screen time” a day — usually computer before school and TV afterwards. Reading your post reminds me that my wife and I have our work cut out for us in the years to come.

  4. John Bickerton said:

    older folks have more time to read. Young folks are out falling in love and discovering life(life that older people are reading about in books).

  5. Len Morse said:

    Hi Bob,

    There will always be a new generation that will need to learn. Generally speaking, the human mind strives for knowledge, which leads to documentation, and the human spirit strives for excitement, which leads to storytelling and other types of creative writing. These documents and stories aren’t going anywhere; they’re here to stay.

    So, the resources exist, but it’s the demands of other media that take many kids away from a lifestyle that could include recreational reading. Radio and movies, as well as other life activities, also pull kids in a variety of different directions (not all of them bad, either).

    Sadly, some parents just don’t make the effort to promote literacy in the home, relying instead on schools to teach their kids about reading. It’s a fine thing to have such trust in society, but those who choose to have children must not shirk the responsibility of raising those children properly, before and during the school years. That includes encouraging reading and writing.

    The ability to read, understand, and retain text does indeed matter. However, part of the problem in today’s digital world is not only being able to read, but also trusting the information. Reading from a source other than a physical book does not mean that one won’t learn or get enjoyment from it; however, thanks to the ease of publishing online, the Web is unfortunately rife with misinformation. Everyone, young or old, should make a habit of checking more than one resource, or at least know that the one they use is 100% correct.

  6. Ted Grigg said:

    Heavy reading teaches critical thinking. I am not sure non-readers know how to concentrate deeply enough to get to the important knowledge that lies below the surface.

    Not accepting what appears as truth is what a real education is all about. And that kind of learning comes mostly from reading.

    My grandson reads a lot at age 13. We also play computer games together. Its great for hand-eye coordination. His Mom (who raises him alone) does not have much time to read. But my grandson was born with the desire to read. He’s now hooked on it.

    There are many more activities today that compete with reading. So the average American may read less today than in the past. But I am not convinced that that is totally true. Most people did not read much from what I saw several decades ago.

  7. Bob Bly said:

    Len: If you know of a source that is 100% correct, would you mind sharing it with us?

    Ted: My teens love video games. But the only hand-eye coordination XBox teaches is the kind used to play XBox. I don’t think it does much to make you a better carpenter or tennis player, or improves your skill in any other hand-eye coordination tasks.

  8. Dianna Huff said:

    I am a voracious reader and have been reading to my son since day one. However, he’s not the reader I am.

    I purposely do not limit his screen time. I’ve found that he reads a tremendous amount of info online and will often send me Yahoo News stories. He also reads the newspaper when a story interests him, and he subscribers to three magazines.

    I’ve also found he does read books . . . just not the books I love (and still read) from my childhood. He also reads a ton of information books — mostly relating to his DS games.

  9. Trisha said:

    It’s a shame how so few people read now. It seems to make you ‘cool’ if you talk about how lame books are.

    What’s wrong with these people? Reading is fantastic! You can immerse yourself in any world you choose and escape from the droll life that awaits once you shut the book.

    Reading all the way!

  10. Bob said:

    It is hard to say about reading and whether it is not just evolving into other areas/dynamics. I know my brother and sister and law don’t have a book or magazine in their house with the exception of kids books, yet their son is excelling in school and in particular in reading.

  11. Abdul Rahman said:

    I’m no Americans but most of the popular programs in America (from American Idol, Project Runaway to many other programs) are available here and I certainly agree that reading is nearly dead. I’m quite young, 17 years old and I read quite a lot daily.

    Though, most of my peers (schoolmates) doesn’t read as much as I am – they tend to love TV, Musics and Video Games more than reading. For them, reading is a school stuff with exception, romance genre (fiction).

    Since TV programs in Malaysia follow closely to America, it is not surprising that most people tend to value the new generation media more than books.

    And this is a good link to read:

  12. Mohamad Latiff said:

    I am amongst the generation in which reading is dead.

    But I am an avid and prolific reader. I speed read sometimes, to get crucial facts. My reading is more for information gathering than for leisure. I do read fiction but rarely so.

    I watch a lot of movies also and I get an equal dosage of thought-provoking information from reading (books or online media such as Wikipedia and blogs) as well as watching documentaries.

    I used to be a computer games addict but I have outgrown that now.

    I don’t think reading is dead, just like theatre is ‘dead’ because of cinema. Theatre still survives to this day. Modes of information consumption are not like genetic specimens at the mercy of natural selection – where only the most survival-worthy ones survive.

    Unless we come to the point in time when technology enables our brains to process information instantaneously via a transcendent yet-to-be-invented method, reading will still be around for a long time.

    Kudos for the thought-provoking post, but I think your putting forward a notion based on only one article’s findings lacks solid ground to convincingly ‘prove’ reading is dead – but I know you’re not ‘proving’ anything.

  13. Bob Bly said:

    Mohamad: as you astutely observe, I rarely try to prove points on this blog; I mainly throw out questions and observations for discussion.

  14. Len Morse said:


    Although I’m not as adept at research as I’d like to be, I’m guessing that, realistically, there are probably less “100% correct” information sources than people would like to believe. (i.e. Reader-written and edited sites like Wikipedia and Wiktionary are inspiring to see, but they’re not exactly another Random House or American Heritage.) I wrote the “100%” phrase as a generalization, which I am now thikning was not the best idea.

    Short reply: No, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a truly 100% correct resource, except for a time-tested, published encyclopedia or dictionary.


  15. Dick said:

    I would actually question the “7 minutes per day” statistic. It seems like a valid number, considering all of the non-reading distractions that come into play with a youth these days. However, I think people forget that the Internet is a resource that requires literacy, and I know plenty of youth use it. Even using instant messaging changes conversation into a reading and writing activity, not a speaking and listening activity.

    The real danger, then, is that youth may be developing poor language skills when those with whom they speak have poor language skills.

  16. Michael said:

    I guess using instant messaging and similar communications methods can be seen as reading and writing activities, but as we’ve seen, the writing styles tend to favour short bursts of truncated words and phrases (e.g. c u @ 8 for “see you at eight” or oic for “oh, I see.”). Does it inspire anyone to sit down with a copy of “Roughing It”? I’m not sure that it does.

  17. Dave said:

    I think it all comes down to the parents. I’m the father of a 7-year old, and while I’m in the business of marketing online, I try to make sure he reads something (offline) each day. My wife is great at encouraging reading, which definitely helps.

    That being said, whenever he asks me something I can’t answer (which seems to happen more and more frequently as he gets older) the first place I look is Google.

    Perhaps it’s just a question of moderation.

  18. Dianna Huff said:

    Does reading necessarily mean reading the printed page? My son and I have been listening to books on CD. We just finished The Secret Life of Bees and are now listening to, The Strange Incident of the Dog in the Night.

    Both are fabulous books and we’re both enjoying listening to them. Are we getting the same value as we would have with reading?

  19. Bob Bly said:

    Dianna: as you know, I love audio learning. Having said that, yes, I think reading means the printed page, not audio, DVD, or even the Internet. Each is a different learning mode with its pros and cons. Reading requires a sustained concentration that watching and listening do not. It also forces the reader to contribute more: the narrator of an audio can convey emotion with tone of voice, a tool not available on the printed page.

  20. Tom Messner said:

    Interesting ad from the 1970s:
    “Marshall McLuhan said the printed word is obsolete. To prove it, he
    wrote 16 books.”

  21. Kelja said:

    To those who don’t think reading is dead: you surround yourself with like-minded people (those who read extensively) and, hence, do not see the reality.

    Most of the country and the world either can’t read or do not care to read. 50 years of awful, politically-correct public education has dumbed down our children. There are exceptions to be sure – my 2nd grade daughter reads and spells at a 6th grade level (she’s in private school) – but she’s the exception. I see many high schoolers that are functional illiterates, or read at below 3rd grade levels. And this is in ‘good’ school districts.

    Books, at least serious, thoughtful ones, are in serious decline. Thoughtful & reasoned debate is gone from the scene as well.

  22. The Copywriter's Crucible said:

    Can You Write Shorter and Simpler?

    As shocking as it might be to some writers, not everybody reads regularly.
    In fact, most stop reading books after they’ve left school. It’s questionable whether some even started.
    Many would suggest that TV and other modern distractions ar…

  23. Tom Messner said:

    Ans even the writers are not writing.
    Check out
    to see the full effect of the writer’s strike
    which, when added to the reader’s strike which has become apparently pandemic,
    means that
    was right as usual…

  24. BookWise said:

    I am a passionate booklover and so I am inclined to be dismayed by what appears to be a decline in the love of reading by my children and their contemporaries. However when I look closely I see that although they do not always have their nose in a book as I did, they are constantly reading… My son actually learned how to read (and do arithmetic) by playing Pokemon. He progressed to RPGs and then to the manuals for the games and then to the literature that inspired the games. My daughter became literate through online chats with her drama queen friends and then progressed to drama and now loves theatre. It took them some time to learn standard English spelling but now they are proficient and completely hooked on reading. They came to it by a different path but the point is that they got there.

  25. Robert Kopacz said:

    All this talk about reading misses the point. If we had the options for receiving information that young people have today when we were younger, we (meaning people like myself who are Bob’s age) might have been reading less back then (and now). People are attracted to, and learn from (or are sold by), well told stories. Whether they are delivered using audio, video, or text is less important. Eventually, those who learn using audio-visual media and seek deeper meaning will turn to reading to enhance their knowledge, because neither video nor audio can deliver the depth and analysis that reading can.

  26. Jim Furr said:


    If you knew what passes for reading in (most of) our public schools you would not be asking your question.

    I was overlooked in school because they did not understand dyslexia back then (I am 56). I started to read a LOT at around age 17 and Then got my education. I graduated university at age 39.

    “Hooked On Phonics” is the only way to go – don’t give your kids up to public education, do it yourself.

    Phonics is the Old School way to teach reading.

    Just Do It!

    Jim Furr <

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