The Internet – A Golden Age of Literacy?

NFImageImportliteracy n. The condition or quality of being literate, especially the ability to read and write.

Surpise! It turns out that the generation in school today is writing more and reading more. Several recent reports provide evidence to support this startling claim. The internet – a time pig that has consumed us with new ways of doing things – has wings.

This trend is global – according to the CIA literacy rates went from 50-60% in the 1970’s to over 80% by 2005. Teens are leading the way. TV is for geezers.

If you are an education publisher are you stuck in the paradigm that kids are reading less? Are you aware of the kinds of writing they are doing and are you building it into your products?


Publisher’s Weekly reported last week that the lone bright spot in trade book publishing is the teen market.

“In an industry without a lot of good news to report, the one consistent bright spot has been publishing for teens. While adult trade sales are expected to fall 4% this year, juvenile and young adult sales are expected to increase 5.1%, according to the PW/IPR Book Sales Index.”

Lest you think that this trend is being driven by e-books a survey of teenaged uber-readers at revealed that:

“When asked what formats they prefer, 79% noted paperback while 74% said hardcovers. Audiobooks were favored by 6%, while e-books were noted only by 6% and 13% had no preference as to format.”

Got that? They are reading more and they love carbon fiber technology.

New technologies are driving up the reading habit.

Libraries that have instituted game nights have seen teen circulation of books soar.

“…once teens come to library because of gaming, they also find time to study, to check out books. Most importantly, they also find time to learn. They learn about information technology, they develop research skills that will serve their life-long learning needs.”
“Gaming in libraries? You bet! with an investment of about $900, (less than 1 tenth of 1% of budget) we have over 3,000 new young adult library users.”

Research has shown that Dance Dance Revolution can improve reading comprehension among students with ADHD. The students who played the game showed improvements in:

“…receptive coding skills, the ability to immediately recall a word or series of numbers. This type of testing indicates greater focus and attention, a key issue for children with ADHD. The more times the kids played the game, the better they did.”

There was a study a couple of years ago that showed that video game players (particularly MMOs) spent an hour reading for every 2-3 hours of playing. This is certainly consistent with my family’s experience. If you have the link to the that study please leave it in comments.

The evidence shows that todays kids are reading more and that new technologies can have a positive impact on old habits.


In September I shared an article from Wired about the revival of the written word in the age of social media. An excerpt is here:
Work done at Stanford shows that todays students are writing more than their parents – in fact 38% of their writing is has nothing to do with school. Better yet – they are writing for an audience – or at least an audience wider than a single Professor.

Here are a couple of key quotes (emphasis added):

“…young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text.”
“It’s almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment.”

“The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world.”


1226138We are seeing the same pattern in literacy that we have seen in other media as they digitize. Increased exposure and access leads to an increase in demand. Movie studios fought HBO tooth and nail – until they realized that more people were going to the theater. The web – with its heavy emphasis on text – is leading a revival of literacy skills.

I can see my generation huddled around a TV watching Dukes of Hazard reruns muttering to ourselves that “three channels of TV were enough for us – why do these damn kids need all these books. Don’t even get me started on all that high falutin writing they are doing….”
The younger generation is leading the way as they absorb and reflect the values of the internet culture. Engage, advocate, make, connect, reach out, sift. Read. Write.