Hermitage of St. Bernadine Library, New South Wales

Should I Mourn the Decline of Reading?

I recently read an old New Yorker article, concerning what life would be like if most people stopped reading. I have aspirations of making writing become a career path in some respect, or at least continue on with it personally if I have an audience. I read constantly, in all forms and formats, and often wish that I made even more time to read than I currently do, or could go through more books quicker. I feel guilty if I pick up my 3DS or the television remote in lieu of a book, or if I open Twitter on my iPad instead of iBooks.

Still, I am aware that I read more than the average individual. I keep a large backlog of fiction and nonfiction books by my desk to work through, often working on several at a time depending on my mood. I have several novels on my iPad that I’m working on, and if I get bored of that for a bit, I pull up the newspaper, Flipboard for its articles, or the invaluable Instapaper app (seriously, if you ever read anything online and have a compatible device, buy this app). According to studies quoted in that article, and from my personal observations, the purchase of books has declined, as has their consumption, and reading comprehension in general is moving in a downward trend. The author foresees a return of reading for pleasure or personal information to a niche group, this time not due to a higher rank or elite status, but due to general disinterest and apathy.

Is this a bad thing? As someone who enjoys reading myself, and who would like to find paying customers for things that I write, which would become increasingly difficult with a smaller customer base, I cringe at the thought. Still, different strokes and all, so I can’t take this personally. I just wonder if there will be other side effects that we can’t envision now, or how people will change in general without the more consistent use of the internal conversations that books provide. Watching a movie or television show, even based on a book, is not the same as living that story in your own head, mapping your experiences onto it and letting it shape you as you are shaping it to yourself. Creative thinking results in many of our greatest achievements, and I worry: will a decline in literacy correlate to a decline in creativity?

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