Internet and Reading

Over at Tumblr I re-blogged Alex Madrigal’s article from the Atlantic showing a chart of the percentage of Americans reading books over time:

The original article (which is linked to in the re-blog) shows the following:



The reason that I am putting this up here is that the re-blog had a very high number of responses – likes, re-blogs and comments. I put up the post on Friday 13th April at 7.20pm and by this morning (Sunday 15th at 9am) there have been 1057 responses which is the highest for any of our posts in such a short time.


This had me wondering why. If you set aside some of the comments on the gap in the data between 1957 and 1990, which way the graph should run, and issues of cause versus correlation I think there are some very interesting things here:


  • Scrolling through the comments (which I acknowledge are a skewed subset of blog readers and online enthusiasts) you get a real sense of outrage that the modern generations are being accused of reading less and that some older time was a “golden age”
  • There is a real debate about what constitutes literature versus just reading. It is my view that as long as people are reading books the fact that they are not “high literature” is irrelevant because it is sparking the interest in reading that it important.
  • There is a strong aspect of critical thinking and critical review which a lot of people worry has been lost by modern pop culture and reductions in attention spans. It is certainly my experience of interacting with younger people (and again my sample if probably very skewed) that they are very strong in their thinking and assessments of arguments.


From the large number of responses where there was no comment, just a like or re-blog it is obvious that this article immediately touched people and they wanted to share what it was saying. I think that this is an area which is of critical importance for our future and it is my view that the sharing and availability of books via the internet is a positive thing which will only be enhanced as our tools around “social reading improve”

From my own personal point of view I find my experience going in the opposite direction. I was a complete outlier in terms of book reading, reading 2 or 3 a week and having 8-10 on the go at any one time. I have certainly found that our work and need to maintain scanning of up to date ideas on disruption and change has reduced that significantly as the influence of the internet has grown. Although I  am sure that I am still on the heavy side of the general population. I think that overall my reading experience has been enriched by information access that the internet has provided but I find myself having to work harder and harder to find the space to read longer form material, including books. 

This is more true of non fiction material that it is of fiction because despite the fact that most of my non fiction reading has now transferred to the Kindle app on my iPad I am still a dinosaur when it comes to reading novels. This is largely because my novel reading tends to be a habit that is now largely confined to reading before going to sleep, especially when travelling for work and I cannot make myself move to do that on an iPad.


I would be interested in knowing what other people’s experiences and thoughts are.


Paul Higgins