Why Have We Stopped Reading?

By Linh N., Grade 9

In this digital age, our days are filled with work, school, and other duties, and we are constantly staring at a screen. It has become normalized to scroll on your phone during meal times, text people while walking across the street, or binge several episodes of a show straight after school. As a consequence of this, we have somehow stopped reading. Many studies show that time spent reading for personal pleasure has decreased significantly. On average, teens only spend 7.8 minutes reading per day and 7 hours and 22 minutes on devices, which is a considerable difference. This is extremely worrying; reading is linked to better performance in school, increased productivity, and better mood - we are losing out on all of these benefits. 

The reality that dystopian novels such as Fahrenheit and 1984 predicted is starting to look more and more realistic. George Orwell and Ray Bradbury wrote about a world where literature is prohibited and destroyed - anyone who dares to break these laws is wiped from existence and forgotten. All of the citizens live in a state of ignorance; they have no mental capacity to think for themselves, and in turn, this keeps them from rebelling against the system. If we lose our connection to literature, we may lose our ability to think critically as well. But why have we stopped reading? There are countless reasons to read a good book - it isn’t as if it is difficult to open a book, and books are not inaccessible. People simply have to stop at their local libraries, get a library card, and check out books for free. There are even websites online that allow you to download PDF copies of books. Social media is a large factor in the lackluster reading culture in our society: it has created impatience and lack of focus, it has given us a surplus of other entertainment options, and it has redirected our attention to other shallow and superficial topics.

During COVID-19, I used to have three favorite pastimes. Firstly, I would read for hours and hours without stopping, I would walk out the field near my house and practice soccer, and finally, I would watch YouTube. I enjoyed watching Moriah Elizabeth, an arts and crafts content creator, who would post videos every Friday. As my friends started using TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, I begged my parents for the same. They always said no, not until I was mature enough, and it infuriated me. However, after watching a documentary on Netflix about social media, I realized that these platforms are designed to draw you in and to keep you using the app; each time you watch a video, receive a like, or get views, your brain releases dopamine, and your brain associates social media with pleasure. I eventually got Snapchat, which has a Spotlight function where you can scroll and watch short videos. I noticed many effects almost immediately after and unfortunately, many were negative.

Social media is not all bad; it made me feel more connected to my friends as I could wish them Happy Birthday or view their posts. However, once I had another form of entertainment, reading and other activities did not seem as enticing. I try to take breaks from social media and limit my use, and I always find that I am more productive when I do not have the constant desire to scroll through videos. I still love reading of course, and I try to read books before I go to bed. It took some effort to reignite my interest in reading, and it was a long process to attain the same attention span and reading comprehension I had before.

There are so many different entertainment options besides popular social media apps now. This long list includes sitcoms, talk shows, Netflix series, video games, movies - I could keep on going. These options compete for our attention constantly and have methods to keep you engaged - for example, cliffhangers after each episode make you want to keep watching to see what happens. It is much harder to read and comprehend texts, and perhaps that is another reason why people prefer to use media. Regardless, while these forms of entertainment may be exciting and can give you an immediate reward, reading can have a much more profound and meaningful effect on our lives.

Moreover, social media has influenced teens' perceptions of what they “should” care about. Beauty influencers on social media promote luxury brands, makeup, and skincare while donning filters. These create very unrealistic beauty standards and pressure young girls into purchasing products that they may not need. Tiktok does have a "booktok" niche where people can recommend books and share new ideas but overall, it is much rarer to see someone on Tiktok or Snapchat promoting educational topics.

In conclusion, there is a clear lack of reading culture in society, but this does not only stem from the influence of social media apps and other entertainment. People do not read because they lack the time, do not form a reading habit as a child, or may not know how to get access to books. Many campaigns promote reading, such as Get Caught Reading or Tweeting Bookmarks. Even celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Emma Watson support this cause. Despite this, people still do not understand how detrimental the decline of reading is, and why it needs to be solved. To fix this problem, we must get behind these programs too - the only way to change our reading culture is for everyone to chip in and change their perspective.