Bylines and books: literature in the long term

by Charlotty Herman / Beacon Staff • October 5, 2016

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Social media makes people's attention spans shorter - a hinderance to those who enjoy reading.
Social media makes people's attention spans shorter - a hinderance to those who enjoy reading.

Ding. My phone produced a single-note ring, distracting me from the new book I recently started reading. Suddenly, I respond to a text, look at my friends’ snap stories, and post a picture. This is a ubiquitous problem: in the age of social media, more and more young adults are distracted from reading books. Though book culture is still seen in a positive light, our society is moving away from reading books for leisure.

As a child, I was an avid reader. I read novels, World Books, dictionaries—you name it. As the years progressed, I became more connected to technology and my attention was diverted from books. In middle school I enjoyed searching on Google and looking at websites such as JustJared. In high school I downloaded apps and became interested in social media. I love Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.But I miss becoming engrossed in complicated plot lines, connecting to characters, and discovering new words.  

Today’s teens and college students make up one of the most informed generations because of the instant access of information. However, there is a valuable distinction to be made between quick online reads and longer literature commitments—the time it takes to analyze the language in the piece of writing. The brain can absorb even a well-written news article quickly, while a quality book usually requires the reader to take time to reflect. Despite their differences, both forms of media intake are vital to the creation of a thoughtful and well-informed individual.

Social media makes people’s attention spans shorter—a hinderance to those who enjoy reading. After using technology regularly, a person may not want to read Proust’s flowing sentences or Shakespeare’s dated language—maybe not even John Green’s intelligent wit. I have gotten so used to the brevity of Cosmopolitan and People articles on Snapchat that I now scan other articles and even books, which I didn’t do before. Looking on Instagram—an activity I enjoy greatly—is also a possible culprit for scanning and shorter attention spans. Though some say a picture is worth a thousand words, people have become accustomed to seeing photos in the place of language. I sometimes silently say to myself: this is for class. I have to read the whole thing. I recently tried reading a novel for pleasure. Although it is interesting, I reach for my phone often and become easily distracted. This also never happened before—as a child, I once finished reading a 500-page book in less than two days.

I’m not saying that this generation of young adults is any less informed than any other generation. Because publications include links to articles on Facebook and Twitter, people’s involvement in social media actually encourages reading as well. Social media also gives journalists and writers the opportunity to post articles of their own, which pop up on people’s feeds and often pique interest. In addition to this, there are apps such as iBooks, Google Books and the Nook app that allow you to read literature right from your phone, iPad or computer.

The fact that book sales may be decreasing does not mean that reading is. There are options such as the Nook by Barnes and Noble and the Kindle if you want to read electronically. According to The Huffington Post, 21 percent of Americans had read an Ebook as of February 2012; the most popular Ereader is Amazon’s Kindle. But there’s just something about holding a book, feeling the pages and smelling that new book smell—that Ebook users will never know.

Before the Internet—a time which I do not know—people had to obtain books, newspapers and rely on others to tell them information about what was going on in the world. Now, several newspapers including the The New York Times and The Boston Globe even have their own apps. People also don’t have to wait for the news  to release in print; it is always accessible by computer and by smartphone. National and local newspapers alike are connected to Facebook, so they reach several people all over the world. Someone could pick up either of those newspapers at a local Starbucks, but face it—not everyone pays attention to that or wants to carry around a newspaper everywhere they go.

 Today’s teens and college students make up one of the most informed generations because of the instant access of information. It is difficult to balance reading books and online media,  but I am confident there is a way to do both. As JK Rowling stated through her character Ginny Weasley, “anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve”.