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  Updated: 12/20/2010

The Internet's Impact on Reading Habits and Abilities


Internet Generation





Internet Generation



" The average young person spends 31 hours a week on the Internet."

>>The reading habits of most young people have significantly changed over the last decade. Reading experts attribute this primarily to the Internet.

This is both good and bad.

The good aspect of this is that the Internet generation -- especially the early to mid-teen segment -- is spending much more time reading and writing -- up to six hours a day on the Internet in some cases. 

But Internet reading is not like reading a novel or textbook.

>>Although young people also spend a lot of time writing on the Internet, a visit to many of the sites shows that this writing tends to be sloppy, unorganized, and littered with writing errors., to cite one example, consists of thousands of sometimes rambling and often incomprehensible comments about television shows and movies -- and to a lesser degree, books.

>> At the same time the "Internet generation" tends to cover much more ground.  By skipping around between Internet sites and postings, users glean more information, representing more points of view than they would by reading a novel, for example. is an example of a popular social networking site with messages, mail, and personal ramblings.

Gaia Online is one of the many role-playing sites where members fashion alternate identities as cartoon characters. At Gia Online they say, "you can be who you want without reality in the way."  (More information on social networking and information sites can be found here.)


The Internet's Impact on Reading

>> Although reading scores on standardized tests have declined or stagnated in recent years, many educators feel that he time spend interacting on the Internet is preferable to sitting on a couch and passively watching typical television programs.

They also point out that the Internet just represents a new kind of reading skill, one that is not reflected in most standardized tests such as those used for college entrance exams. These exams test for the sustained, concentrated reading, more appropriate to reading a novel.

Because many see the importance of these new digital skills, some countries (the United States excluded) are now testing for "digital-age proficiently." This involves testing student's ability to find and synthesize Internet information.

>> With the decline of traditional reading skills has come a decline in interest in classic novels. Although this would be a definite handicap in relating to or appreciating our cultural heritage -- and maybe in paying Jeopardy -- competing for digital-age jobs is a different matter -- or so it would seem.

" The half of knowledge is knowing where to find it."

Found over the entrance of a UCLA Library,
attributed to Samuel Johnson, 1775.

quote bar


What the Research Shows

>> It has been shown that young people who "read for fun"  (Internet reading is excluded in this definition) --

  • do better on reading competency exams
  • have an easier time getting into a good college
  • tend to have higher GPAs while in college
  • have higher lifetime incomes after graduation

Separating Fact from Fiction

>> It appears that young people who rely on the Internet for information have a more difficult time separating information that is trustworthy from the suspect.

Donald J. Leu, who researches literacy and technology at the University of Connecticut, asked 48 students to go to a bogus web site about a mythical species known as the “Pacific Northwest tree octopus.”

Although the account was written as a joke, nearly 90 percent of those who read this account deemed the information reliable.

Even excluding conspiracy theory sites, we know that many sites have highly biased, if not clearly inaccurate, information -- information that is often presented as legitimate news.

When this type of information is presented convincingly, it's easy for young people to fall victim to incestuous amplification, which we discuss elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

>>It's clear that to be professionally successful, you need to combine today's essential digital skills with a demonstrated appreciation of traditional "long form" reading -- be that detective novels or the classics.

This is especially true in television production.

Elsewhere I mentioned a friend who was a successful and award-winning producer of films and dramatic television programs.  Although he dropped out of school at an early age, he started reading the classics -- including Shakespeare. This perspective undoubtedly played a major role in his success.


Cyber Bullying

>>Some social Internet sites such as the popular warn readers about cyber bullying. They highlight the case Meganof Megan, a young woman who was driven to take her own life after people persisted in publishing demeaning things about her on one of these sites.

This is not the only time this has happened.  Although afterwards those responsible may claim, "it was all a joke," unless they are rather calloused and unfeeling individuals, they will face a lifetime of guilt. We often don't know the internal struggles that may already be going on inside a person. 

Sexting, which can be a part of cyerbullying, has also become a major issue -- with major consequences.

Cyber bullying and sexting can push some people over the edge. Bullying appears to have been a factor in recent gun-related school massacres. Sexting has been the cause of several suicides. This video shows just one example.

If you know of incidents of these types hurtful bullying -- either on the Internet or elsewhere -- tell someone in authority about it. You can also check out the links below.

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