Here’s a good decline of civilization stat

Americans Reading Less = Decline of Civilization

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From here:

One in four Americans did not read a single book in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center poll. In 1978, that number was 8 percent. By 2005 it was 16 percent.

(Here’s that full Pew study on Americans and reading.)

Here’s the problem with all this: reading is good for you. It can improve your health, for one. It obviously exposes you to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new ways to process information. All these things are valuable in your work, your personal interactions, and numerous other contexts.

From that same IDoneThis article linked at the top, here’s a good Warren Buffett anecdote:

A reporter in Buffett’s office once asked him how to get smarter. He held up of stacks of nearby papers.

“Read 500 pages like this every day,” he said. “That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”

I need to get better at this, personally. I read a book in the past year (probably several), but I don’t read enough — it’s not a primary focus activity for me, and maybe that explains some of my issues around concerns about purpose, depression, etc. My wife reads all the time. Some of it is shlock like Criminal Minds fan fiction or whatever, but some of it is powerful, legit content. I’m trying to read about the Rwandan genocide right now but I’m only at about 30 percent of the book on iPad so far. I guess it’s time to try harder.

I’d assume this decline-in-reading-books stat probably correlates with two other social developments of the past 30-40 years or so:

The third one would be:

  • What 15 year-old right now is probably inclined to read books outside of what they have to do for school? (A generalization, yes.)

Have you seen a decline in your own personal reading?

Ted Bauer


  1. I took a job as a school administrator in 2011. That was the end of reading books for me. I lost the will to read recreationally. Although I left the field in disgust last year, I haven’t regained my interest in reading whole books. At 38, I tend to just skim even when I encounter short articles. I could blame this on technology, but I think the real interest is my interest in the world has decreased.

  2. I’m not sure where that stat comes from, but here in Montreal is see lots of readers everyday (which doesn’t mean the stat is not representative of Montreal – anecdotal data…). I see people reading everyday – on the public transportation, in parks, in restaurants…. I also notice many more eReaders by am happy to see lots of paper and hardcovers as well. It would be interesting to see the breakdown for this city. If we do read more, I can offer no explanation as to why though!

  3. I have also noticed a decline & attribute it to the information overload from my RSS reader. The obvious thing to do would be to reduce the number of feeds, but what I read is useful for me. I do try to read some real books too.
    I have read the comment from Warren Buffett before & it really gets up my nose because it is such a load of nonsense. I understand the point he makes about how important reading is, but I defy anyone in the world, including Mr. B himself, to read 500 pages of real literature in 1 day & absorb, & make sense of it & get something out of it. It is physically impossible. So advising people to do that day in/day out is plain BS, which makes me take some of his remarks with a pinch of salt, to put it mildly.

  4. In the spirit of being helpful, I’ll share some details. I use strategy in how I read books. I have multiple books going at a given time. I use posted notes and I stop reading as soon as I lose interest. I also mark what I’ve read so I do not re-read pages. . . . so I read 81 books a year. As an educator (graduate students), speaker, author, Executive Coach and Spoken Word Strategist, reading is part of my job so I found ways to keep reading. As a bonus, I teach my college students some speed reading techniques. the best to you

  5. I still read a lot, but I tend towards essays and articles and such, nowadays. I don’t connect with most modern fiction, and I’ve always liked the odd and grotesque stuff over the normal anyway. I’ve always been a SciFi and Horror guy, and there are certain authors whose stuff I will always read when it becomes available. Joe Lansdale, Thomas Ligotti, and Ramsay Campbell are examples. When it comes to articles and essays I prefer history, science, and economics as subjects. So, while I only read a few books a year now, I’m always reading three or four articles every day on some subject. I think ‘snackable’ information isn’t a bad thing, if it’s aimed and packaged properly. You really don’t have to read the majority of every book out there to take the main idea away, and for second and third hand dealers in ideas, the fun sized version is likely best. Plus there are other ways of getting information these days, like podcasts. It’s important to remember, written language was always secondary to spoken. There are many cultures which never developed a written language. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but you should always remember it was never the focus of human endeavor, people have always been more concerned with more immediate things on the whole, with comparatively few being interested in more in depth enrichment you get from reading books.

  6. I could see how forced content from years of schooling and subsequent years of professional work experience may discourage some people from recreational reading. Add to that the fine print and paperwork that accompanies so many of life’s transactions — getting a credit card, buying a car, buying a house, etc. — and it’s easy to see how people can be turned off by the idea of seeking out more information to process, even if it’s fantasy.

    Hell, even buying a smartphone has a tome of paperwork associated with it. There are so many caveats, instructions, guidelines, and legal issues that interfere with transactions nowadays.

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