Internet’s Impact on Reading

Internet’s Impact on Reading April 10, 2012

I’ve been saying for years that the internet has made many students better writers and read more but others say the opposite. This chart … well, you take a look at yourself:

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  • John

    Correlation does not equal causation. I think the increase is better attributed to the increase in college education, not the internet. More people are reading because more people are required to.

  • Peter

    I really can’t see where any doubt about this relationship could exist: internet -> blogs -> JesusCreed -> read more books. I know from my own perspective that I never had this much trouble keeping up with all the books that I want to read until I started visiting this blogspot.

  • James Palmer

    The fact that there is such a big jump at 1990 (before the World Wide Web came to be) shows that there are other things at work here.

    That’s not to say that the Internet doesn’t have some sort of effect on people reading books, but this graph certainly says nothing about it.

  • Joe Canner

    Good point, John #1. The internet did not really start taking off until the mid 90s, but this graph shows an increase in reading already by 1990. It would be more helpful if there were more data between 1957 and 2005. This would help line up reading trends with other trends such as college eduction, the internet, e-readers, etc. (Although it would still not prove causation.)

    All that said, it is at least encouraging that the internet is not *reducing* reading. I suspect that the internet plays at least a part in improving reading and writing skills, at least in some people. Starting with Harry Potter, then Twilight, and now Hunger Games, there has been a resurgence in reading (for what it’s worth) that may have been prompted in part by web-generated peer pressure.

    I am more skeptical about claims of improvements in writing, except for those who have taken up blogging and other forms of internet self-expression in which good writing is rewarded (monetarily or with popular acclaim).

  • Interesting article. He’s not asserting causation. He’s debunking the apparently false memory of ‘reading more’ before the advent of the internet. I don’t like his graph though. It doesn’t represent the huge gap in data (60’s-80’s and most of the 90’s). I’d love to see those numbers in comparison. Here’s a graph that’s a bit more proportional.

  • Jeremy


    I think it’s possible that we ARE reading more due to the accessibility provided by the internet. That said, we also have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to reading anything on a screen.

  • Leslie

    I wonder to what extent this graph is representative of increased leisure time, increased discretionary income, and the increased number of books being published between the 1950s and today. I’m certain the our reading choices are influenced by the internet though because we have easier access to information about the latest best sellers and information about books being published. The internet has also increased the ability of the average consumer to be aware of and purchase a wider variety of books and resources.

  • Larry S

    agreed Jeremy #6

    plus = does skim reading count ? as reading

  • Interesting and thought provoking. Thanks for sharing.

    I friend of mine, who used to be a non-reader, mentioned in passing, “Since I bought my Kindle, I’ve been reading all the time!”

    I wonder how those like my friend have effected at least the 2005 statistic.

    (And: I find myself hearing about books all the time via Twitter, etc., which has me purchasing far more than I can read. I wonder how that statistic of awareness/marketing has effected the graph above.)

  • For all the claims that the internet is a visual medium, it’s still largely a text-based medium. It makes sense that a person’s writing and reading skills would be sharpened when more written material is made available to the person in the form of online journals and newspapers and through, for example, public-domain works (Hear! hear! for Project Gutenberg!).

  • DRT

    I agree.

    But, when I was young I spent every waking moment that I could either riding motorcycles faster than before, or chasing girls. What would have happened if I read?

  • I think without question the internet has opened up a whole new world for me. I will say that it is good up to a point. One has to get off of it and onto the reading of the books.

  • Luke

    Am I the only one bothered by the fact that the graph is backwards?

  • Mark

    Chart still does not give any indication of what (what kind of books or novels) is being read nor how (for instance, how thoughtfully) books are read.

  • phil_style

    @ Luke, #13, yeah I had to double-take on the X axis!

    I’ve almost certainly read more novels/books since the internet. The main reason is that now I can research/ be recommended and find books that I never could before.

  • Brian

    As others have proposed, I think it has to do with the fact of accessibility. Because of the internet (and now my Kindle) I don’t have to leave my desk to get a book brought to me so I can read it.

  • My own experience is that the internet has exposed me to so many more books and resources that I really can’t read fast enough to keep up. I think it has little to do with being required to read more. I read because I want to, and the internet helps me be aware of and acquire interesting material faster.

  • Jeremy

    It should be noted that the article in question makes no mention of the internet with regards to this chart. The original intent was to show that the “golden age” of literacy in the US never existed and that despite the internet, television, etc, more people are reading now than ever before.

  • Robert A

    We are, it seems, in a golden age of reading.

    Nothing wrong with that, and the internet has been a tool in the growth of that….but just as a tool alongside others. Also consider the nature of education since 1949. Western society, in general, is becoming more educated in that time period.

    Also the explosion of media means that more books are driven into our focus from various forms of marketting. Then there is the observation that apparently anyone can get published these days (both positive and negative.) I wonder if there exists a study on the number of bookstores, their distribution across communities, and libraries during this period. Just an unfounded observation, but I think we would see a dramatic increase since WWII.