More millennials read a book last year than older Americans, proving the Internet hasn't ruined everything
Since at least Aristotle (the original thinkpiece pundit), smart people have been predicting the death of knowledge every time a new form of communication arises. For Aristotle, it was the written word, which threatened to destroy human memory. Characters in Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," echoing a similarly popular sentiments around the advent of the printing press, said the new machine would result in "the end of the world." And as recently as 2011, David Weinberger of Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society said that, thanks to the Internet, "[Knowledge] is a term that won’t survive the generation."
But according to a new Pew study, knowledge and the written word can't be so easily defeated. Despite embracing technology more than their elders, the study found that millennials were more likely to have read a book, either in digital form or on dead trees, in the past year than Americans over 30. Even more surprising is the fact that more young people believe there is important information that can't be found on the Internet than their forebears.
Of course that doesn't mean the youngins are more cultured than their parents in every case. Americans over 30 are more likely to visit museums or galleries and to read the news on a daily basis. Nevertheless, the study runs counter to the stereotype of lazy, hyperconnected, attention-defecit millennials, incapable of ripping themselves away from Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat, and who aren't likely to read anything longer than 140 characters in one sitting.
One caveat to the study is that young people, particularly between 16 and 22, and more likely to be in school; so all this book-reading may not be entirely voluntary. Indeed, while young people were more likely to take advantage of a library in the past year than older Americans, only 19 percent of them say that their library's closing would have a major impact on their life.
That said, the study serves as a valuable lesson for cranky olds decrying the downfall of society and blaming it all on the Internet and millennials. It's also instructive to digital publishers. For example, in mounting a defense for photo slideshows, Business Insider's Henry Blodget said at one of last year's PandoMonthly that “Kids don’t like to use words.”
The Internet is such a fast-moving, disruptive (in the true sense of the word) force that it's almost impossible to predict to what extent it will change the behavior of both adults and youngsters, who use it more than any other demographic. But if we look at the history of communication, from Aristotle to Snapchat, it's clear that humans will always crave knowledge and stories -- and for now, at least, people still love curling up with a good book... or e-reader.
[image via wikimedia]