The Internet has brought many blessings; chief among them, easy and immediate access to information.
However, with every advance, there are drawbacks. Users seeking data must now make judgments as to the validity of the information they uncover. Just because it is written on a blog, on a loop or in a newsletter does not make it true. Users must discriminate among the websites they encounter and the information they read. A friend teaching on the college level told me that one of her challenges is to help her students ascertain appropriate resources to cite when writing term papers. As an example, she does not accept Wikipedia as a valid citation because its open source approach permits inaccurate data to creep into entries.
One of the loops I belong to is strugging with valid versus invalid data right now. In the last 24 hours, there have been at least four instances of erroneous information posted as fact on that loop. The subjects were wide-ranging from whether John Grisham was a self-published author to the protections afforded by a debit card. I'm going to address one of those cases here today.
One young writer who has a habit of making impulsive (and frequently grandiose) statements said that people are reading less than they used to and that most kids would rather play video games.
To counter that statement, another older and generally more responsible writer responded that overall books sales had increased over the last ten years.
As I read those posts, my first thought was they were talking apples and oranges. My second thought was that there were at least three separate pieces of data on the subject I'd be interested to review:
1) Are people reading less?
2) Are the number of titles being published up or down?
3) Are book sales down?
I *knew* the answer to two of those questions, but wanted the data to back my knowledge up. It took me about twenty minutes of googling to get what I wanted.
Are People Reading Less?
My young friend might have been speaking impulsively, but he was correct. According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts (a public agency established by Congress), "literary reading [novels, short stories, poetry and plays] is in dramatic decline with fewer than half of American adults now reading literature . . . Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America reports drops in all groups studied, with the steepest rate of decline--28%--occurring in the youngest age groups."
The 60-page study, released in 2004, is available here.
Among the findings:
1) The percentage of adult Americans reading literature has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years.
2) The decline in literary reading parallels a decline in total book reading.
3) The rate of decline in literary reading is accelerating.
4) Women read more literature than men do, but literary reading by both groups is declining at significant rates.
5) Literary reading is declining among whites, African Americans, and Hispanics.
6) Literary reading is declining among all education levels.
7) Literary reading is declining among all age groups.
8) The steepest decline in literary reading is in the youngest age groups.
9) The decline in literary reading foreshadows an erosion in cultural and civic participation.
10) The decline in reading correlates with increased participation in a variety of electronic media, including the Internet, video games, and portable digital devices.
Okay, so we've established that people are reading less. Does it follow that the number of book titles available are down? Tomorrow we'll address that question.