Encourage Reading in the Digital Age


It has been quite common that more people (especially the younger generation) are getting obsessed with smartphones and tablets. They use their digital gadgets to play games, watch soap operas, socialize and everything except reading.


Books, once regarded as "the ladder of human progress", now seem to be losing their importance. The British press, Telegraph, recently reported that only a quarter of children in the UK read for pleasure after school, and primary school teachers say they want to take their students "to Saturn" to force them to read without the distraction of digital products. Some admire the "bright Japanese students reading their mobile phone novels on their way to and from school", but they have no idea that Japanese youngsters are also experiencing a crisis of lack of reading.


According to the Japanese media on Feb 27, a national survey on the life of Japanese undergraduates find that 40.5% of college students admit they spend "0 minute" on reading every day. The survey was initially carried out in 2004, and this is the first time that the percentage of "non-readers" surpasses 40%. The survey covers 8,930 undergraduate students in 30 domestic universities, and 34% of arts students and 44% of science students say they don't spend a single minute reading a book. As a whole, the average daily reading time of Japanese undergraduates is 26.9 minutes. Statistics also shown that college students who do not live with their families receive 72,280 Yen (around US$ 707) on average from their parents each month, while only 1,820 Yen (US$ 17.8) were spent on book purchasing, which hits a historical low over the past 7 years. A domestic expert tells the media that the decline of time spent on reading is probably caused by popularization of smartphones, on which gaming apps overwhelm reading attractions.


Reading shortage is a global crisis indeed. It will be particularly harmful for the youth, who are in great demand of literal knowledge to improve their achievement in every aspect of their study and life. Researches have even proven that teenagers with a regular reading habit do better than other peers in Math. Needless to say, reading is beneficial throughout one's life. Now the most urging problem is: How to encourage the young reluctant readers to read, and to keep on reading?


Jonny Zucker, a children's author, suggests two ways for motivation: one is to take advantage of what he calls "awe-inspiring" printed books, and the other is to make full use of the media young people like best—digital literacy.


Studies find it takes a kid merely 8 seconds to decide whether to continue reading a particular book. Rather than emphasizing it is a "global classic", having funny comic on the cover and interesting illustration in the pages will be an effective way, according to Zucker, to attract one to keep on reading. In his opinion, a graphic book is no less literary than a "pure" book, as long as it has texts.


Zucker's second suggestion is to engage youngsters in e-reading on their cellphone or tablet. However, an e-book with tens of thousands of words can still be boring or challenging to the "e-generation" who are used to short messages and graphic cognition. To cope with this problem, Zucker points out that the stimulation may come from a book itself apart from the push of parents and teachers. Let a reluctant reader pick up a serial published regularly, say, weekly, in consecutive chapters. The nature of a story series will attract the reader to follow it up.


The digital age may lead to the decline of printed works, but it will not necessarily lead to the decline of reading. There are many other methods that can be done to encourage the habit of reading. For example, the government grants more funds and promotions to public libraries so as to increase people's accessibility to books; parents together with schools can help children set regular reading time every day; reading app developers can provide some "privileges" to persistent readers, say, present a reader with a new book free of charge, etc. After all, a reader will not really start reading because of others' expectation, but will start when he or she finds the pleasure of reading itself.

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