The Tragic Lack of Readers

Upon the invention of the World Wide Web in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee,
the internet has made its way into the orthodoxy of everyday life. Never
before has history seen such a rapid advance of technology across a country,
much less across the globe. By 2001, 56.3 percent of all U.S. households
had a computer, roughly 62 percent of Americans used computers
somewhere in their lives, and within that same year the first USB flash
drive—storing an impressive 8 megabytes—was invented. By comparison,
the industrialization of Japan within the Meiji Restoration took about 20
years, the first modernization of China, 69, and about 5000 years for the
global literacy rate to cross the 20 percent line. Now, the functionality of the
computers we use—be it either on our countertops or in our pockets—has
skyrocketed manyfold, greater than it was upon its invention or even 30
years after that. The wisdom enshrined in texts such as St. Augustine’s City
of God, Plato’s Republic, and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy—all
texts whose presence was in minute supply during even the zenith of their
influence—have since been digitalized, existing ad infinitum for any
number of users. Even the Bible—the most printed work in the history of
the world (5 billion copies in total)—did not exist in such numbers as to be
present in even just a quarter of Europe’s households by 1500.
In the digitalization of the classics alone—4.6 billion people have
access to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics—the majority of humanity has
access to the most revolutionary philosophical achievements in its history,
alongside the most moving of literary works, and the most illuminating of
scientific writings. One can assume that, now more than ever, the youth are

the most educated, most incisive, and the brightest of all generations which
preceded them, that the knowledge they have been granted access to have
made each and every one of them their own version of Socrates’
philosopher king, that all of their most trivial or gargantuan intellectual
curiosities can be satiated.
Perhaps, with such circumstances present, it is understandable to see
why it may be appalling to find that for the majority of adolescents, and
even adults, that reading has not just failed to balloon, it has stagnated or
even declined in some areas. The American Psychological Association’s
findings in 2018 revealed less than 20 percent of teenagers read a book,
magazine, or newspaper daily for pleasure, substantially less than previous
generations. Only 2 percent of 10th graders picked up a newspaper daily in
2016, compared to 33 percent of that same grade in the early 1990s, and a
third of all 12th graders did not read even a single book for pleasure,
including those available online. And for those who have picked up at least
one book to read, seldom can they be expected to read anything
substantially difficult. Furthermore, reading the physical book itself
provides particularly important reading and language benefits desperately
needed in most modern professions, these benefits are not equally available
within e-books. Such declines in reading also may correlate with a dramatic
decline of operating hours and closures of libraries not just in the United
States, but also in the United Kingdom, where 773 libraries closed their
doors for the last time since 2010, in part due to both a declining audience
and a lack of funding. Of the 2,810 library branches remaining, there has
also been a decline of 89 million library visits in comparison to 2010. The
libraries in the United States have managed to stay afloat, in part, perhaps,
due to their connection with local and state governments. In March 2021,
the Institute for Museum and Library Services received an injection of
millions of dollars by the federal government, with more money on the
way. Though it is unsure whether or not such libraries will be able to
continue to subsist indefinitely off of such injections.
In contrast to the decline of reading, the average 12th grader reported
in 2016 that they spent an average of six hours a day just on three activities:
texting, browsing social media, and being online during free time. For 10th
graders that number was five hours, and for 8th graders, four. The American

Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reported that, across the
country, ninety percent of teenagers between the ages of 13 to 17 have used
social media, with 51 percent reported having visited a social media site at
least daily.
There is possibly no real saving grace to the decline in reading, for
often the measures presented are unrealistic, that there are, in the words of
Thomas Sowell, “no solutions, only trade-offs.” Perhaps future parents may
be able to instill the great value of reading to their children, though such an
image is bleak, for that generation of parents will have, themselves, already
given little care to the knowledge found in books having largely been raised
on social media. It will behoove us to treasure the knowledge we have
available to us today before they have been altered or otherwise become
obsolete. That the great digitalization of material has permanently changed
the manner in which we look at it. And that, among the most tragic ironies
of the century, the knowledge which we have made universal has reduced
the very attitudes towards it.

Jacob Wu '23

Assistant Opinions Editor
I am a junior at LHS. I enjoy reading and studying history. I am most interested in the history of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian, Basil II, and the Komnenian dynasty. I consistently read the Lord of the Rings and Sun Tzu’s Art of War. I also take a keen interest within the Soviet Union, it’s economics, history, and it’s ideology. My favorite movies are The Lord of the Rings, Waterloo, Zulu, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

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