Hay’s Daze: Read any good books lately

Dear Teenagers and other Aliens:

It has recently been reported in newspapers and magazines and other pieces of paper that you don’t read — that you don’t read. Anything on paper, that is. Apparently the latest research shows that you young people only read things that appear on a screen. Like, for example, your Smartphone. Which in the opinion of many of us fossils and other life experts, isn’t that smart.

And not only that, it seems teenagers and other similar semi-intelligent life forms are only interested in short messages and blurbs that appear on their phones, iPads, laptops etc. and they are eschewing “long form content” such as books, magazines and newspapers. Also, they don’t know what “eschewing” means.

A recent study reported that — surprise, surprise — high schoolers these days are texting, scrolling and getting sucked into the black hole of social media instead of curling up with a good book. The study found that the 1970s when many of my much older friends (like city councilor Michael Dawe for instance) were causing trouble in high school about 60 per cent of Grade 12s reported reading a book, magazine or newspaper every day (or in Mr. Dawe’s case, writing a book every day).

In 2016 only 16 per cent of high school seniors read anything other than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other digital etceteras. Incredible. That’s, like, over half as many! (I missed Math in high school I was too busy reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.)

That same study showed that — get this — 12th-Graders reported that they spent six hours of their free time on digital media every day. Six hours a day! In my world that’s enough time to read at least five or six pages of a good book! You know, one with an excellent story, or lots of large pictures. Tenth graders spent five hours; eighth graders, four hours. Wow. When we baby boomers were in Grade 8, we would spend at least four hours a day outside chasing dinosaurs, or inside curled up reading a good scroll.

(And speaking of dinosaurs, dinosaurs didn’t read. Now they’re extinct. Just sayin’….)

So what does all this mean? Aside from the obvious fact that it means that Apple and Samsung, Bell, Rogers, Telus and the rest of the mega monopoly telecom tech giant cult are getting richer by the kilobyte, it may mean that teenagers will grow up with a digital device permanently attached to their skulls. Oh, and also minor things like books, magazines and newspapers will be obsolete. Oh, and according to experts, future digitally obsessed citizens will also be dumber.

“Reading long form books and articles is really important for understanding complex ideas and critical thinking skills”, one author/expert says. “This decline in reading print media, particularly the decline in reading books is very concerning.”

“LOL” says the average teenager texting on a $900 phone. “Whr RU? WTF? Meet me at the mall, #skipschool, CU thr.”

The answer is simple, you may say. Just get young people to read books and newspapers on their digital devices. Good idea, except that it’s been proven that reading long form text on screens causes “screen fatigue” and this leads to such symptoms as frequent napping, hanging out at the mall and recurring brainfarts, which ironically are the same symptoms produced by general on-set aging.

Which leaves us with a question that teenagers of all ages may want to ask themselves, sooner or later:

Do you ever feel like you’ve spent too much time reading?

Yeah, me neither.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer writer and filmmaker.

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