Losing our Minds: Rise of Tablets Doesn’t Mean Rise in Reading

Sure, the birth of the tablet has been largely credited with fall of Borders and the decline of the American bookstore, at least according to the Economist. Yet Google‘s newly released study shows 84 percent of tablet users mostly play games, while less than half read e-books. That means bookstores still may have hope once the tablet novelty wears off … or reading is declining…again.

The National Endowment for the Arts called the decline of reading a national crisis in 2004, but enthusiastically reported a surprise boost in 2009 with more than half of all Americans reading literature. It remains unclear what impact the tablet really will have on American literacy in the long haul.

Every major technology has faced a similar crisis. Radio promised educational and art opportunities as justification for its advancement and led to the birth of popular music. Radio gave Bach to the backwoods and Lady Gaga, too. Television promised the same educational and arts opportunities, giving us Masterpiece Theater and also Kate Plus Eight. We shouldn’t be surprised that tablets offer us Angry Birds along with the complete portable works of Jane Austen.

Perhaps the tablet is the best and latest answer to the problem of bowling alone: you can be isolated as you play your favorite game but look hip instead of lonely.

Tablet survey

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2 Responses to Losing our Minds: Rise of Tablets Doesn’t Mean Rise in Reading

  1. Kyle Pflug says:

    I’m not too worried just yet. For one, I find (anecdotally) that a lot of those who read e-books on tablets did not do so in print. That is, they aren’t converts from print – they are new readers. I don’t think e-books provide a price point low enough to be compelling to dyed-in-the-wool paperback readers, who pay less and get a physical artifact to show for it.

    That said, I also find that on my own iPad, I do a huge amount of reading – but most of it is medium-length content, not novels. I spend a lot of time in Instapaper and news apps/feed readers. I’m much more likely to encounter and to actually read a serious piece of long-form journalism or an editorial piece on a tablet than I ever have been on a computer, especially since I can save it for when it is convenient.

    I don’t think that tablets are going to introduce a new generation to fiction by any means, but I think that smart social media integration with high-quality journalism are already making great inroads in ways they couldn’t on the desktop.

    Case in point: I found, read and responded to this article on my iPad, using Pulse. 🙂

  2. Peter Burke says:

    Hip instead of lonely…and you feel connected because you’re reading the Facebook feed. Good post!

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