Why We Don’t Read, Revisited

15 Jun

A little more than a decade ago, I wrote an article for The New Yorker about American reading habits, which a number of studies then indicated might be in decline. I was worried about what a shift to “secondary orality”—a sociological term for a post-literate culture—might do to America’s politics. “In a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with,” I wrote. I suspected that people might become less inclined to do fact checking on their own; “forced to choose between conflicting stories,” they would “fall back on hunches.”

I’ll go out on a limb and say that I don’t think that I got this part wrong. But I’ve often wondered whether I was right about the underlying trend, too. Were Americans in fact reading less back then? And are they reading even less today? Whenever I happen across a news article on the topic, I wonder if I’m about to find out whether I was Cassandra or Chicken Little.

Read the rest of Caleb Crain’s New Yorker essay here.

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