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Will Streaming Media Eclipse Reading?

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on a New Yorker articles on the decline of reading in America. As WSJ says, “The reading of literature has declined so sharply that some sociologists believe it will one day become an arcane hobby. But the really bad news, says writer Caleb Crain, is that as literary reading erodes, so does open-mindedness. Replacing time spent with the printed word are television and other forms of streaming media, which engage people on a much more direct and emotional level than reading. While emotional responses can be useful — say, for
evaluating a political candidate’s personality — they also can foster intolerance for opposing viewpoints. Consider the difference, says Mr. Crain, between reading an anger-inducing article and watching a television program that serves up different viewpoints. The former can be amusing, but the latter can feel nearly unbearable — and it is all too easy to change the channel to something more comfortable.

Mr. Crain notes another curious aspect of reading: According to a National Endowment for the Arts study, readers are more likely to exercise, visit museums and engage in civic activities — all the more reason, he suggests, for not letting the habit slip quietly into the night.”

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3 Comments

  1. Interesting (though a bit tiring) read – nice change in focus from the recent topics…

    I am out of touch with the main-stream then. I do watch television. I like to watch the news, and admit I watch some series with family.. Love to watch sports.

    That said, I am a bit more of a reader than most probably are today (according to the facts in that article). At first I would say that I am not a reader, because I very rarely actually read print. I read online as often as I can. I read online too much probably. I research everything. I read news, product reviews, viewpoints, blogs like this one, and of course technical papers and manuals. However, reading a novel, or a short story or other literary works, is something that I haven’t done in a long time. I cut my teeth on Jack London, and other authors, I read a ton. But now it is hard for me to pick up a book at all. Sometimes I think it is because I have become so “bleeding edge” that books are out-dated by the time they hit print. (my thinking not reality I know)

    But I am not so sure that I think it is all gloom and doom. I am going to use this to think a little more about how my children are spending their free time. Maybe help add a little more balance between the tv, video games, and reading. Right now, reading is something that they have to do and video games and tv are more of a reward… Makes me wonder if there is some way to fool them into reading for pleasure… Might just require me to put time limits on the other things rather than time quotas for reading.

  2. This article hit close to home for me.  I am a voracious reader and I do a fair amount of reviewing at Amazon.com where I am ranked in the top 2000 reviewers nationwide.

    It's always tempting to decry technological change and long for the good old days and so my first take on these articles and the questions they raise is to caution against over-reaction and oversimplification as to what is going on.

    Reading is a discipline and those who engage in it in general tend to be more inquisative, curious and open to various points of view if for no other reason than they tend to be exposed to them more often (assuming of course that they're reading more than Harlequin Romances.)

    I realize it is cliche and perhaps and oversimplification, but I am reminded of the saying that the medium is the message.  Reading for me opens worlds I haven't experienced before.  It triggers thought.  The medium allows me to stop, reread, rethink, note references, add additional books to my "to be read" list which already extends well into the next millenium.

    Reading declined with the advent of television.  Not only reading but television I think will be reduced as computers and the internet continue to ramp up in importance.  What is available on the internet now includes growing databases and linkages that allow us to get more information than most people can even imagine.

    I've started in the last year to do my family genealogy and history using the internet and some services available.  I checked last night and my records for my wife and me now total almost 10,000 family members discovered and placed in our family tree.  That boggles my mind and new information is coming on every day.

    Traditional reading is going to change, no question.  Amazon came out in the last month with a new Product called the Kindle which is designed to look and feel like a book with a display screen that looks like a printed page so that people can buy and download books, blogs, magazines newspapers etc and then carry them around electronically.  Will it capture this huge and growing market?  I don't know, but they're really giving it a try.

    What's different about this medium?  Books were a means of imparting information but the ability of a book to compete with the internet in that regard is clearly not practical.  The internet and its sources and growing accesible databases which allow near instant sorting and cataloguing mean that a book in terms of raw information is outdated as soon as it hits the shelves, maybe even before.

    The value of books will be their ability to entertain which compared with electronics, video, movie etc. is much less flashy and realistically people prefer mediums by and large where they don't have to work so hard.  In terms of information, the value there will shift from straight information to analysis, teaching and critical interpretation that takes data and trends and puts something in the hands of the reader for their effort that is more than just the ability to get information.  That is going to be a change.

    The world isn't coming to an end.  It's just changing.  The nature and character of people's intellect is going to change to take advantage of these trends and new mediums.

    There will be pros and cons.  By and large I think it will be postive however.

    In terms of Churches and Ministries, those who have relied in the past on books had better take notice however and begin asking whether issuing books and magazines in traditional forms are going to cut them out of key demographics and how they're going to not only make the message but the medium itself accessible, familiar and effective to the people they are trying to reach.

    Sorry for writing a book myself in response …. it is on a blog though, so that in itself says something …. doesn't it?

  3. You know, there is one thing that I don’t think was really addressed. I have a friend that spends a lot of time in his car. He is a techno geek like myself, and often will get books on cd or other electronic – audio media. It certainly is not the same as printed reading, but is one other medium that is replacing the printed copy. The article referenced here does delve into the way the brain processes the actual print and digests it. I would be curious to know if the digesting of audio only version of a book differs much in the way the brain processes.

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