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Reviving the Reader in Us

Remember those reading contests to see who could read the most books? Winner won a pizza party. Still sounds like a deal to me.

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

In 2016, Statista reported that 2.1 billion people in the world are smartphone users. This number should increase to 36 percent of the world’s population since last year. With easy access to the internet, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in Psychology to see why the younger generation interacts less and less with traditional media, at least recreationally.

I think people have seen this problem over the past decade, but have not worked on a concrete solution to remedy the issue. Although I do not have a specific answer to the problem at hand, I have researched some interesting takes on why kids spend less time reading for fun.

The first thing to note is how technology has shaped the way we view traditional media, specifically print. According to the American Psychological Association, 60 percent of 12th-graders reported reading a book daily in 1970. In 2016, that number dropped to 22 percent. These researchers are puzzled by the drastic decrease in numbers when technology allows us to download reading material with the click of a button.

Personally, I am surprised that 22 percent was reported back in 2016. To me, that is a high number. I am not trying to downplay my own generation, and I often saw people my own age reading in cities (living in DC has given me this perspective). I have plenty of friends who read, but you cannot argue that youth more often than not have books in their hands rather than a cellphone.

People my age, including myself, have become engrossed in the culture that social media purveys and feeds into every time we open an app that is not Kindle or a reading app of some sort.

This very reason explains why students today barely have any interest in reading a school textbook. There is a barrier between technology and the teachers in our schools trying to integrate it into the classroom. Textbooks should not be banned, but college students can admit they have taken at least one class where they were able to get away with not buying the book.

Media has evolved into sectors that span far beyond our vision. There is so much to do online that doesn’t involve reading.

Another thing to consider is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The psychologist made the case for this theory in his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” published in 1943. The theory describes a five-tier model in the shape of a pyramid based on our needs as humans.

In order, the bottom of the list starts with physiological needs (food, water), safety needs (shelter), love and belonging (friendship), esteem (respect) and self-actualization (the desire to be one’s best self). In order to reach the latter term, one must fulfill the previous needs starting with the physiological.

Today, some people would not consider reading (books and magazines) on this list at all. The goal is to stress the importance of learning (aka reading material) by placing it lower on the pyramid. When people realize that it is vital for our survival, then its priority will manifest.

Another point to note is how booksellers and publishers do not do a good job of advertising the importance of reading. As some may put it, it’s because they assume we all understand the need to read. The truth is, we do not; possibly subconsciously, but it is not at the forefront of many of youth’s minds.

I will admit I did not start reading books in my spare time (again) until last year. It’s sad to think about, but you have to start (again) somewhere. The starting point for this movement needs to be defining the interests of the target demographic. What are today’s youth interested in? Encourage them to read books or printouts on anything and everything having to do with their passions.

There is a desperate need to revitalize reading for Generation Z and the generations to come. Maybe if we can cater to their initial interests, we can get back to 60 percent like in the 70s, and possibly even higher.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Adam Kelly
Adam Kelly

Former White House Intern, and aspiring photographer and writer based in Charleston, SC. 

Quote to live by: "Successful people don't worry about what other people are doing."

Song on repeat: Katy Perry, Never Really Over

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