Straight Talk Advice

Nov 19, 2008

“I don’t read” costs society dearly

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: Every morning I drive my granddaughter to high school and sit there in traffic observing all the kids: backpacks slung over shoulders, every hand gripping a cell phone. I’ve been in the newspaper business 46 years, starting right out of high school, and I’d like to ask what young people today read. I know they’re on the Internet, but are they surfing, or actually reading? Or is it mainly social networking? And, apart from school assignments, do they read newspapers, magazines, and books?

Barbara Hale, Features Editor, Merced Sun-Star, Merced CA

Shelby, 16, Auburn CA

I don’t read. I just don’t like it. Even Harry Potter I skipped. Sometimes on MySpace, I read a “fun fact” or gossip, but I’m not into politics or business. I have better things to do, and between homework, sports, and my social life, there’s no time.

Taylor, 19, Placerville CA

I don’t usually read. I wasn’t a good reader through school so I got turned off. I didn’t even read Harry Potter. On rare occasions I read magazines from the supermarket checkout lines, but news doesn’t interest me because everything is spun and it’s overwhelming not knowing what to believe. Online, I strictly social network and get entertainment via YouTube.

Lara, 17, Fair Oaks CA

Before I became socially obsessed, I read practically a book a day. I was raised without a TV, so books were how I learned and amused myself. I especially love Steinbeck, Dickens, and Austen with their good human values. But now with school, sports, and socializing, I prefer personal-development books because you can skip around and still learn. In tenth grade I lived with my dad in Europe and Europeans think Americans are really dumb because we are clueless about world affairs. That motivated me! On the Internet, I social network but I avoid celebrity gossip. I get news from my email home page feed and the ORF, an Austrian site with detailed world news.

Hannah, 17, Auburn CA

I didn’t used to like to read, but recently I started Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms. My mom keeps thinking it’s assigned reading! I don’t read magazines or newspapers at all. On MySpace, I read election news, but generally, I don’t read politics. It’s embarrassing, but my friends and I go to a celebrity website for guilty pleasure. It’s meaningless, but that’s what we do.

Lennon, 22, Fair Oaks CA

Aside from school reading, I spend about 30 minutes a day reading things like Popular Mechanics, Rolling Stone, the Sacramento Bee. I also read regularly for pleasure, more than most of my peers, maybe because I had no TV growing up and still don’t. Right now I’m reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I use the Internet for research and social networking, but I hate reading online; it physically drains me.

Geoff, 23, Redding CA

I, and many of my peers, use, a customizable news feed that pulls from thousands of newspapers, magazines, and online publications. During college, and now, after work, I come home and see all the day’s politics, economy, technology, philosophy, video game news, etc. It’s like reading 12 newspapers a day.

DEAR BARBARA: There’s a picture for you, although I believe the panel has proportionally more “readers” than American youth in general. This supports a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts compendium study that correlates reading for pleasure, regardless of income, with political activism, cultural participation (such as writing for this column), even regular exercise. The average 15- to 24-year-old, according to the study, spends 2.5 hours per day watching TV and 7 minutes reading. Half the young people between 18 and 24 never read for pleasure, and only a third of high school seniors read at proficiency, the level needed to read the newspaper. The cost to society is enormous.


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