NEA Report on Reading and a Common Objection to Digital Media Research

Clancy Ratliff's picture
The Chronicle reports today on the results of a National Endowment for the Arts study on how much reading people do (download the report). The Chronicle article is for subscribers only, but I've quoted the most significant parts:
Just how reading-averse have Americans become? In 2006, the study found, 15-to-24-year-olds spent just seven minutes on voluntary reading on weekdays— 10 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays. They found time to watch two to two-and-a-half hours of television daily. Older and presumably wiser— or at least more bookish— generations didn't do much better. In 2006 people ages 35 to 44 devoted only 12 minutes a day to reading. Even the best-read group, Americans 65 and older, logged less than an hour each weekday and just over an hour on weekends. [...] When Americans do manage to read something, whether it's a book or a blog, more and more of us can't do it well. The proportion of 12th graders reading at or above the proficient level fell significantly from 1992 to 2005, from 40 percent— hardly a robust number to begin with— to 35 percent. Meanwhile, during roughly the same period, the share of college graduates who could reliably find their way through a piece of prose declined by 23 percent. If you think your master's or doctorate renders you immune to the national decline, think again: Even Americans who have studied at the graduate level saw their reading skills atrophy: 51 percent were rated proficient readers in 1992, but only 41 percent made that grade in 2003.
So what does this have to do with MediaCommons? Well, as you'd expect, the study cites "the omnipresence of electronic media" (quoted in the article) as a possible contributing factor. My question for everyone, then, is, do you ever encounter "what about the decline of reading" as an objection to your research in digital media? I'd be shocked if the answer is no, because I do, all the time. How do you respond to it? I still haven't figured out a good answer that satisfies interview committees, dissertation committees, or conference presentation audiences, because the truth is that I do not want my research to supplant the reading of bound books with covers and paper pages, and I think that people who demand that I apologize for my research are overreacting to and misinterpreting what I do. I want people to read books and then blog about what they read, but I wonder if that's too glib an answer. I would love some other views. I guess for me personally, though, the common rebuttal of Steven Berlin Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good for You thesis doesn't encapsulate what I really think, so I wouldn't counter with that.


the notion that digital

the notion that digital media/culture is contributing to the decline in reading frequency and skill seems a bit absurd. after all, we read more on the internet than we do when we watch a movie or tv. granted, net slang is changing language, but that’s nothing new. language is always in flux.