For the first time in history, more kids are reading digitally than they are reading print texts. Is this a good thing?
You've probably seen those doom and gloom headlines along the vein of "The Death of Print Books Is Nigh." Indeed, the Borders nearest to my house, which surely killed a couple mom and pop bookstores, is now a massive Walgreens. Barnes and Noble keeps Legos and educational games in stock, but if I want to pick up the five-novel box set of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain for my 9-year-old, it's not on the shelves. "You should order that online," the associate told me. Still, it's not too tough to shrug off those death of print stories because traditional books are the norm for me and I'm always buying them.
That's most decidedly not the case for kids born in the digital age. A recent survey of nearly 35,000 eight to 16-year-olds by the U.K.'s National Literacy Trust found that for the first time, more kids are reading via electronic devices than traditional books. A full 52 percent preferred reading books on a tablet or other electronic device, while in comparison, only 32 percent preferred traditional books. The remaining 16 percent had no preference or said they don't like to read.
It's worth celebrating that the majority of these kids actually read and like doing so, but what's concerning is that researchers found that kids "who read daily only on-screen are nearly twice less likely to be above average readers than those who read daily in print or in print and on-screen." The researchers also found that "those who read only on-screen are also three times less likely to enjoy reading very much" while a third of them are less likely to say they have a favorite book.
If you don't enjoy reading and you don't have a favorite book, something tried and true that you can curl up with on a lazy Saturday and it feels as fresh the tenth time you read it as it did the first, eventually you're going to stop reading.
Of course, a society that doesn't read ceases independently investigating the truth, which can bring any semblance of democracy to a grinding halt—conspiracy theorists would probably say that's the whole point. Nevertheless, with so many K-12 schools adopting electronic devices and digital textbooks, it's certainly worth taking a closer look at what the long term implications of digital books are for our society and how we ensure kids still fall in love with literature, whether it's in electronic or print form.
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A stack of books image via Shutterstock