The Fate of Reading

A new study by the National Endowment for the Arts has found a big decline in reading among young people. I lament this decline of reading actual books, but I disagree that young people are not reading at all, as if literacy is becoming obsolete. Every time someone logs onto the internet he or she has to read. Without reading, there can be no Facebook socializing. Text-messaging requires reading. Arguably more letter-writing and letter-reading is going on than ever before in the form of e-mail correspondence.

The problem is that online reading tends to be in little bites. Books require–and create–long attention spans, with long chains of reasoning and sustained acts of the imagination. The new media encourages that kind of minimalistic condensation of discourse exemplified in the kind of spelling used in txt mgs typed on a tiny screen with your thumbs.

But reading is not going to go away. And reading books cannot go away for Christians, since they know the God who communicates Himself to us not through visions or experiences or feelings but precisely through a Book.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fwsonnek

    You are so right. reading and writing as correspondence is blossoming. and so the ability for young and old to describe their existences and experiences with (electronic) pen and paper. this is great news!

    might I add though that the structure and discipline of structured writing is probably missing for the most part. and with it structured thinking. reading and writing often dictate the ways in which we think. it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

    I suspect that poetry will flourish (great!), and objective , fact based, and argumentative writings will suffer.

  • fwsonnek

    You are so right. reading and writing as correspondence is blossoming. and so the ability for young and old to describe their existences and experiences with (electronic) pen and paper. this is great news!

    might I add though that the structure and discipline of structured writing is probably missing for the most part. and with it structured thinking. reading and writing often dictate the ways in which we think. it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

    I suspect that poetry will flourish (great!), and objective , fact based, and argumentative writings will suffer.

  • WestTexas357

    Jeff Bezos of Amazon appears to have reinvented the book. So maybe reading will be the new in thing. (if you are very rich.)

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FI73MA/ref=sv_kinc_0/002-0381990-5129649

  • WestTexas357

    Jeff Bezos of Amazon appears to have reinvented the book. So maybe reading will be the new in thing. (if you are very rich.)

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FI73MA/ref=sv_kinc_0/002-0381990-5129649

  • Pinon Coffee

    As an enthusiastic blogger and IM-user, I like to compare online styles of different sorts of people. Literary types (readers of paper books) tend to use longer sentences. :-) They also use proper grammar, capitalization, and punctuation, and are also more prone to think thoughts that must be described at greater length–which does in fact work against them on blogs, unless they are uncommonly good writers as well.

    I like blogging because, at its best, it requires concision and snappiness. Strunk and White would approve: if you blather interminably, you _will_ lose readers’ attention. Facebook status messages also encourage writing with wit and precision.

    I wonder if it’s like the relationship between training in classical music and going to jazz: once you know the rules, you can break them rightly. A great literary writer would have the background to blog excellently.

  • Pinon Coffee

    As an enthusiastic blogger and IM-user, I like to compare online styles of different sorts of people. Literary types (readers of paper books) tend to use longer sentences. :-) They also use proper grammar, capitalization, and punctuation, and are also more prone to think thoughts that must be described at greater length–which does in fact work against them on blogs, unless they are uncommonly good writers as well.

    I like blogging because, at its best, it requires concision and snappiness. Strunk and White would approve: if you blather interminably, you _will_ lose readers’ attention. Facebook status messages also encourage writing with wit and precision.

    I wonder if it’s like the relationship between training in classical music and going to jazz: once you know the rules, you can break them rightly. A great literary writer would have the background to blog excellently.

  • fwsonnek

    great thoughts pinion coffee. come here more often!

  • fwsonnek

    great thoughts pinion coffee. come here more often!

  • Michael the little boot

    Very interesting. We talk about this all the time at the library where I work. Many long-time library employees don’t like that the main reason teens and tweens use libraries currently is to go online. They get on myspace, play games, blog, etc. But the big push in libraries is to be the information place rather than the book place. Kinda begs the question “If the information is virtual and can fit in a virtual space, what use is there for an information PLACE?”

    But don’t spread that around. I LOVE my job!

  • Michael the little boot

    Very interesting. We talk about this all the time at the library where I work. Many long-time library employees don’t like that the main reason teens and tweens use libraries currently is to go online. They get on myspace, play games, blog, etc. But the big push in libraries is to be the information place rather than the book place. Kinda begs the question “If the information is virtual and can fit in a virtual space, what use is there for an information PLACE?”

    But don’t spread that around. I LOVE my job!


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