Reading in the Digital Age


Connected devices are increasingly populating the lives of American consumers, creating a battle for our attention. If you want to check your email, for instance, do you turn to your traditional desktop computer, your smartphone, your tablet, your netbook, or your Web browser-enabled ereader? Or perhaps you have your in-vehicle telematics system read your email aloud before even reaching your destination. For the next generation of consumers—today’s kids—digital devices will most likely play an even larger role.

A new study conducted by educational publisher Scholastic Corp.,, and Harrison Group,, found some interesting statistics regarding digital devices’ influence on one of the most important developmental activities among kids: reading.

The “2010 Kids and Family Reading Report” found between the ages of six and 17, the amount of time kids spend reading books for fun declines, while the time they spend online and using a cellphone increases.

Parents surveyed seem concerned; 41% say electronic and digital devices negatively affect the time kids spend reading books, while 40% feel the devices limit kids’ physical activities, and 33% feel this affects the amount of time kids spend with family.

Beyond parents’ perceptions, however, the news is not all bad. The study shows technology can be a positive motivator to get kids to read. In fact, 57% of kids age nine to 17 are interested in reading an ebook, and one of every three kids say they would read more books for fun if they had access to ebooks on an electronic device.

Scholastic says the report indicates that the market for ebooks and ereaders will continue to grow. Though only 6% of parents owned an ereader at the time of the survey, 16% plan to purchase one in the next year. What’s more, 83% of parents say they will encourage (or at least allow) their child to use their ereading device.

Interestingly, kids’ idea of reading may be changing in a digital age. A quarter of the kids surveyed think texting on a cellphone counts as “reading,” while 28% feel that looking through comments and posts on social networks qualifies. Very few parents agree.

Many parents may understandably have concerns about the amount of time their kids are spending on electronic or digital devices, but ebooks offer a way to get kids reading more. It’s a matter of meeting kids where they are, suggests Francie Alexander, Scholastic’s chief academic officer.

There are clearly two sides to the issue: On one hand electronic devices can distract us by dividing our attention; at the same time, technology can make learning more enjoyable and make information more readily available.

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June/July 2014
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