Americans Don’t Read Books Anymore, Think Again

"It doesn’t matter how
good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.
Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last
year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t
read anymore."

That’s what Steve Job said as a put down on Amazon Kindle book reader while touting his new elegant MacBook Air. I’m still *drooling* as I write this, btw.

But I wonder where Jobs got his statistics. Did he get it from the NEA study, "To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence"? Here are some of the key findings in that latest research:

— "Americans are reading less – teens and young adults
read less often and for shorter amounts of time compared with other age
groups and with Americans of previous years."

— "Americans are reading less well – reading scores
continue to worsen, especially among teenagers and young males. By
contrast, the average reading score of 9-year-olds has improved."

— "The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications
– Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social
advantages. Deficient readers run higher risks of failure in all three
areas."

But if people don’t read books, or don’t read as much anymore then where do they get information? I think this Pew Internet Commentary made an excellent point.

"According to a recent study from the national endowment for the Arts,
those people who read books and other printed matter in their private
time are a declining portion of the American population. The study
notes that this decrease in reading for pleasure is accompanied by an
increase in internet use. However, when the NEA study
asked the people in its survey whether they read books not required for
work or school, they did not take into account the other kinds of
reading that people do for pleasure—especially in the online realm.

"With the increase of time people spend in front of computer screens
looking for and processing information, it may be that today we spend
more time reading than we did in generations past—it is just that what
we read is on the screen rather than in the form of a book. Does this
mean screen based reading is in some ways less informative, less
pleasant, or less of an intellectual exercise than reading a physical
book?"

Exactly! I doubt that people in America don’t read as much anymore. In fact, I
think young people and knowledge workers read more than they used to. Young people growing up online
read more! Maybe they don’t do as much reading when it comes to
traditional books but I suspect that most of them read blogs, online
news, online magazines, websites, Wikipedia, watch online videos, and get their information from their
favorite social networks.

In my case, I do more reading now than when I was back in high school
and college. Also, I didn’t grow reading newspapers, but now I read The New York Times
(and tons of stuff from other news sites, blogs, magazines, etc.)
everyday. In addition, I still enjoy the company of books before going
to sleep or while relaxing during the weekend. Information overload
would be an understatement.

What I want is some kind of uber-reader.

I use a MacBook Pro but 75% of the time I use it as a some kind of
"reader." Unfortunately, I can’t take it to bed with me. My ultimate
uber-reader would have wi-fi (or wi-max) internet connectivity, cellular connectivity (like Amazon Whispernet), bluetooth, browsing ability, RSS aggregator, video and music playback,
and virtual keyboard with touch/swipe interface. The screen would be crisp with a Mac
feel. It would be as thin and light as a MacBook Air with 24 hours (or
more) battery life without the overheating problem of a MacBook Pro
(which is guaranteed to deep-fry your balls off my fellow members of
the male species). And it would be as cheap (or even cheaper than) the Amazon Kindle.

In many ways the features of my uber-reader are already built
into the iPhone and MacBook Air. But the form factor of the iPhone and
MacBook Air is still not conducive for long hours of reading/browsing,
not to mention their hefty price. I don’t need the power of Intel Core
2 Duo or the sophistication of OS X Leopard to accomplish my above
requirements. It could be a stripped down version of MacBook Air, just
powerful enough to render crisp graphics, run a browser, a RSS reader,
Quicktime, iTunes, wireless connectivity, and some kind of universal
eBook reader (PDF, ahem). With the launch of the MacBook Air, I think
Apple already has all the technical components and design talents to
come up with a slick uber-reader. I won’t be surprised if Steve Jobs
make that announcement in the near future.

That said, I think Steve
Jobs said what he said with a tongue-in-cheek. The solution to the
reading "problem" in America is not more cool laptops, or more cool music
players, or more cool phones. One solution is a cool and affordable
uber-reader that people of all ages could use. A device like that could
revolutionize learning the way iPods revolutionized listening. If Apple build it, people will come, in droves. I think Jobs has another surprise up his sleeves.

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