Has technology truly affected how we read?

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A decade ago, it was predicted that eBooks would replace printed books. Liana Gooch, Korowa's Deputy Principal, recently delved deeper into the question of whether technology has really affected how we read.

By Liana Gooch, Deputy Principal

A recent podcast from the Radio National Series Future Tense on the topic of the future of reading had some interesting insights on the impact that technology is having upon our reading habits.    Busy lives and the rise of the smartphone have seen a preference for the consumption of bite sized news. 

This has also been reflected in book reading habits in Australia where a study discovered that in 2004, half of our population were reading on average four books a year, whilst a recent study had uncovered that today one million people had stopped this habit. A tendency has emerged where people are less likely to be reading longer novels (which on average typically take about two to three hours to read), preferring shorter novellas. Literary bodies are also picking up on the power of social media to communicate stories such as classics via Instagram stories. There is also a new movement of Instapoets. Audio books, which are easier to consume while people are in transit, alongside serial episodic fiction allows people to access reading in smaller snackable pieces. With a shift to so much screen time, if you have ever worried about the time spent by a student searching and reading information online rather than in a print format, the good news is (according to Professor George Paxino, an expert in neuroscience at the University of NSW), that regardless of whether it is an electronic or print medium, the brain will still absorb information. In fact, the greater access to instant information has meant that people's IQ have increased since the 1950s. 

A forecast was made 10 years ago that the emergence of eBooks would supersede print texts. However, with so much time spent on screens, the trend amongst millennial children is that they actually prefer paper copies over reading books electronically.  Parents can also help develop this habit by modelling more reading of paper texts. The benefits of reading are numerous. For writing skills, reading reinforces spelling and assists students in understanding word meanings particularly where there are several forms of the same word.  Reading also reinforces the development of vocabulary to be used when writing. Furthermore, the benefits of reading are far reaching beyond academic development. Studies from the York University in Toronto and the New School in New York have discovered that people who read fictional novels are more likely to develop empathy as they spend time connecting with characters who may not be similar to themselves. What is of particular interest is the wellbeing aspect, whereby the act of reading could reduce stress by 68%.   

While technology may have changed the manner in which reading material is being communicated, the traditional art of reading in a print version is still truly alive, and as the benefits outlined above highlight, it is important that our young people are immersed in reading.