Maybe I’m in the wrong business

As a writer, I find an article like this to be troubling:

Reading’s new chapter?
A study paints a grim picture of U.S. reading habits, renewing the debate on literacy and learning in the digital age.

By Sarah T. Williams, Star Tribune
Last update: November 19, 2007 – 12:01 AM

Is reading at risk? Or is there a “new literacy” emerging that cannot be measured by traditional testing tools and standards?

That debate is sure to flare anew today among literacy experts, teachers, multimedia whiz kids and good old-fashioned book lovers as the National Endowment for the Arts lays out a study that sounds the alarm about the dire state of reading in our culture. It’s the second time in three years it has raised such concerns.

To the first question, NEA researchers and chairman Dana Gioia are ready with statistics from more than 40 broad-based studies on the reading habits of children, teenagers and adults.

“Americans are reading less, therefore they read less well,” Gioia said last week during a conference call with reporters and writers. “And because they read less well, they do less well in school, less well in the economy and are less involved in civic life — in every way that we’re able to measure this.”

The NEA’s new study (“To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence,” at echoes the findings of a 2004 study (“Reading at Risk”) but brings in more recent data from many more sources, including federal agencies, universities, nonprofit foundations and business research organizations.

Among the findings:

• Nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure.

• People ages 15 to 24 spend only seven to 10 minutes per day on voluntary reading (about 60 percent less than the average American).

• Reading scores for 17-year-olds are down, while those for 9-year-olds are at an all-time high (ground that is lost in adolescence).

• Even while reading, 58 percent of middle- and high-school students are watching TV, listening to music or using other media.

• Literary readers among college graduates dropped from 82 percent in 1982 to 67 percent in 2002.

“These negative trends have more than literary importance,” the NEA study argues. They correlate, among other things, to fewer job opportunities, lost wages, higher incarceration rates and less participation in civic and community life, including voting and volunteering.

The full article is here. Later in the story, some researches differ with the findings, saying you can’t correlate social problems with reading deficiencies. Less reading doesn’t necessarily cause these problems. Perhaps, they say, reading problems are symptoms of the same larger issues in American society — poverty and failing education systems, for example. I agree that the NEA findings seem a little overblown, but I can’t help but think of anecdotal evidence that traditional reading is on the decline in my generation. We talk about TV shows, not books.

Maybe blogs like this will one day replace traditional books? If so, I have to think of a way to make money writing these posts. Hmmm. It’ll need to be something subtle, but profitable. I’ll have to think about this after a sip of delicious Hills Brothers Coffee. Rich, bold, but never overpowering, Hills Brothers. We replaced the Arabian guy on our cans for you, America. Hills Brothers.

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