Is Our Addiction to Digital Technologies Replacing Time Otherwise Spent Reading?

Sand timer with a hand holding a mobile phone

The Decline of Print

While the internet continues to grow exponentially, the amount of people reading print publications is steadily declining. Out of the four main categories of media, which include print, broadcast, internet, and, Outdoor/ Out of Home (OOH) media, print is now the least used. Specifically, this applies to newspapers, magazines, and books. Professor Cal Newport, in his book Digital Minimalism, experiments with 1,600 volunteers who conducted a month-long technological sabbatical. One of the participants, Tyler, carried out the technology detox and closed all his social media accounts.

Since his technology rehab, he now exercises, volunteers, and he is even reading three to four books a month.

As a result, this emphasises the fact that if less time got spent wasted on technology, more time could get dedicated to higher-quality activities, such as reading.

The decline in print media has never been as apparent as in the newspaper industry. The decline began decades ago due to both TV and the radio. However, it decreased further as the internet grew. Particularly evident as Since 2005, more than 200 local papers closed within the UK. Newspapers started to change how their content was delivered. In 2008 and 2009 Managing director of the Guardian and The Independent, Tim Brooks revealed all his future investments would go into digital multimedia products, but primarily distributed through web sites. Brooks stated, The days when you can trade in just words are gone.

A hard-hitting statement, but a true reflection of the industry, and how it reflected a change in information consumption. Today, newspapers create shorter content to fit in with the digital era and to fit the shorter attention spans. The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times are examples of this. In recent years, their articles got trimmed in content as they introduced further summaries and navigational aids to make the scanning of their content easier. Reflecting how newspapers are trying their best to fit into this growing digital era.

We are living in an Internet age, a headline age and our habits are an illustration of this. As print media is continuing to decline, even today as UK book sales fell for the first time in five years in 2018. Demonstrating an evidential decline in reading habits as less books are being bought. Steve Jobs, Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter, Blogger, and Medium, all enforce strict tech restrictions in their homes. This fact is concerning. Adam Alter, author of Irresistible, asks the right question when stating,

Why are the world's greatest public technocrats also its greatest private technophobes?

It seems that the people producing tech products are following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: never get high on your own supply. These designers and writers grasp the addictiveness of the technology they have helped create. All fully aware of how much time can be lost and wasted when using these technology devices, so they ban them from their children.

The compulsive behaviour of technology addiction breaks the habit of picking up a book to read, as too much time gets spent surfing online or mindlessly scrolling through social media. So much time gets wasted as this is how many people spend their days in this era. Instead, they could be reading a book or even a newspaper. This point gets accentuated as the founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, Evan Williams bought hundreds of books for his two young sons and refused to give them an iPad. Therefore, reinforcing the argument that an addiction to digital technologies is replacing time; time that would otherwise be spent reading. It is clear if, given a choice, a majority would continue to misuse the internet and waste their time. Instead, they could focus on building better reading habits as William's actions to give his children a variety of books rather than a device.

Neuroscientist Claire Gillian of Cambridge University has the belief that behaviours stimulate the same area of the brain that drugs like heroin and cocaine stimulate. Neurotransmitter dopamine is released when people browse online, receive a like or a message.

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For instance, in turn, it sets off a feeling of intense pleasure. The release of dopamine is the core reason why people cannot get off their smartphone to pick up a book. As they are addicted to the instant hits of validation that come from a like or receiving a text.

The experience of reading words on a computer, smartphone or Kindle differs from the experience of reading those same words in a book. Reading books focuses attention and isolates any distractions, which is the opposite when reading online as technology intends to scatter our attention. Although today infinite information gets read more than ever before, it is not being carried out in the traditional way using books.

Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallows, asserts his thoughts on the decline in reading books, we have rejected the intellectual tradition of solitary, single-minded concentration, the ethic that the book bestowed on us.

Instead, we get compelled to stay online, read short bursts of information and continue to lose our ability to both focus and think deeply. When reading online, it may seem that the content becomes absorbed. Though, usually, they are too fixated on the technology they are using and therefore being diverted by the Medium's rapid-fire delivery of competing messages and stimuli. Andrew Sullivan, an author and blogger, understands his addiction to technology has hugely impacted his reading habits as his ability to read a book has been severely affected. Sullivan has tried and failed reading books and states that when he reads After a couple of pages, my fingers twitched for a keyboard. Reinforcing the difficulty many people encounter due to their dependence on online engagement.

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