It's strange to say this, but we're reading more than ever.
We may not be reading Hemingway... but then again, we may be. Years ago, Hugh McGuire showed me how he was reading War And Peace on his iPod Touch. The book was available for free from Project Gutenberg (it still is, along with an amazing array of books in the public domain that have all been digitized). McGuire's thought at the time was that classic literature was never the type of content that people wanted to lug around physically. Having it on your mobile device, where the content can be chunked down into little reading bits may not only make the content more accessible to many more people, but it may actually change the way we look at reading.
It took some time.
It took some time for me to get comfortable letting go of the physical entity known as a book. But, not long after that lunch with McGuire, I had my own e-reader (Amazon's first-generation Kindle) and once I made the switch to Apple's iPhone, the Kindle app completely changed the way I read books. I can't imagine ever buying a physical book again. That's not a big or earth-shattering statement, but what has become abundantly clear is that how I read has changed forever. Reading used to be a planned and scheduled activity ("I'll read before bed," or "I'll read on Sunday morning at Starbucks.") The book had to physically be on me. I had to remember to take it with me and in that activity, I was committing to reading because nobody wanted to lug something around that we didn't use. Now, book reading - because of e-readers and mobile apps coupled with the asynchronous Web (also known as the cloud) - makes reading an event that happens at anytime and anywhere. It's simple to whip out your mobile device and grab a couple of pages (or even paragraphs) while standing in the subway or waiting for your dry cleaning. I don't know about you, but I'm reading more than ever because reading has become somewhat serendipitous in the digital age (instead of scheduled).
We are reading more.
The fear of the popularization of television was that it would turn all of us (but mostly our kids) into zombies. While we can lament the value of social media and so many connected devices, it seems like we are all reading a lot more of our media than ever before. And yes, reading does include Twitter tweets and Facebook updates. I never claimed that we're increasing the quality of our reading... simply that we're reading more.
Some interesting information about how we read.
Two pieces of information about how we read came across my desk in the past little while. MediaPost's Research Brief released a news item on November 6th, 2012 titled, The American Reader. From the article: "According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, more than eight in ten Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year, and six in ten used their local public library. At the youngest end of the spectrum, high schoolers, ages 16-17, and college-aged young adults (18-24) are especially likely to have read a book or used the library in the past 12 months. Americans ages 16 and older encounter and consume more books, as e-books change the reading landscape and the borrowing services of libraries. Although library usage patterns may often be influenced by school assignments, readers' interest in the possibilities of mobile technology may point the way toward opportunities of further engagement with libraries later in life, says the report." We all know this. We know that reading at an early age creates a propensity to keep reading. We also know the impact of literacy in relation to success and society. What's interesting is that as more and more people are saddened by the disappearance of the book in its physical form, it could well be that the digitization of the book is what will save reading and potentially give it a whole new life. The other fascinating piece of news came from Business Insider yesterday courtesy of the news item titled, A Lot More People Read E-Books On Their Computers Than You Realize (it was taken from the same piece of research as the MediaPost item). What is most surprising about this chart is that the most popular way for people under thirty to read an e-book is on their computers. Yes, the computer screen still trumps smartphones, tablets and e-readers. Once again validating the point that we should never be a market of one.
What you need to know: our reading habits are changing and evolving. Don't count out books, keep on reading and keep encouraging others to read as well!