Pew Research: Bookworms Going Increasingly Digital

Digital bookworms
Pew finds more readership of e-books, mirroring the healthy increase in tablet computer, smartphone and e-reader sales.

According to the Pew Research Center’s latest survey of American adults (ages 16 and older), ownership of a tablet computer or an e-reader such as a Kindle or Nook has grown substantially in the past year.

According to Pew’s year-over-year findings, ownership grew from ~18% in late 2011 to ~33% by late 2012.

[For those who are counting, tablet ownership increased from ~10% to ~25% of adults, while e-reader ownership rose a little slower, from a similar 10% level to about 19%.]

Based on these findings from Pew, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that e-book readership is also on the rise.

Other results in the Pew survey confirm this: The percent of U.S. adults who read an e-book within the past year is now ~23%, up from ~16% a year earlier.

Conversely, the proportion of printed book readers is declining; Pew finds that ~67% of adults read at least one printed book during the year, which is a drop from ~75% in late 2012 and ~78% in late 2011.

Who are most likely to be reading e-books? According to Pew, they’re the “usual suspects”: better-educated (college or greater); higher-income ($75,000+ annual household income); and folks who are in the 30-49 age range.

No significant differences were discerned in gender or racial segments, although the incidence of e-book readership skews somewhat higher among urban/suburban dwellers compared to those living in rural areas.

And there’s one other type of book platform with some degree of popularity among U.S. adults: ~13% of respondents reported that they had listened to at least one audio book over the course of the year.

Now to a fundamental question: Are we a nation of readers?

The answer to that question depends on your point of view, of course. Some people devour books all the time, while others will do anything they can to avoid reading a single one.

The Pew survey found that book readers tackled an average of 15 books across all “platforms” during the course of the year.

But the median number of books read was just six, leading one to conclude that some people are really, really voracious readers, and they drive the average much higher than the median figure.

Additional findings from the always-interesting Pew research in its invaluable Internet & American Life Project can be found here, for those who are interested in looking through more of the “entrails” …

Is our hyper-connected world changing us for the better, or the worse? Pew looks for answers.

One of the great questions about the digital and interactive age is how it may be affecting the way people fundamentally think and behave.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has been studying this question, too. In late 2011, Pew queried a group of technology experts and stakeholders and asked them to prognosticate on the impact of hyper-connectivity on today’s younger generation.

It is the fifth in a series of surveys conducted by Pew on “The Future of the Internet.”

The question posed to these experts was: Looking out to the year 2020, will the younger generation’s “always-on” connection to people and information turn out to be a net positive or a net negative?

And the consensus response to this question is … no consensus at all. In fact, the experts broke down in roughly equal camps on either side of the issue.

The optimists believe that:

 The brains of teens and young adults will be “wired” differently from their older counterparts … but this will yield positive results.

 They will not suffer any notable shortcomings as they cycle quickly through work-related and personal tasks.

 They will be more adept at finding answers to questions, and will be learning more precisely because they can search effectively and access collective information in cyberspace.

An equal proportion of experts holds a decidedly less optimistic view of the future. Their opinion is closer to this:

 Even though teens and young adults will be “wired” differently than their older counterparts, they will not become more knowledgeable as a result.

 They will use cyberspace not to become better informed, but to be “faster” informed.

 Instead of becoming better educated and better informed, they will depend on the Internet and mobile devices to deliver quick results, with little retention, introspection or further study.

 They will spend most of their energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being distracted away from a deep engagement with knowledge and with people.

Here’s a link to the Pew report summary, and the results are well worth reviewing.

As for my own view, it seems to me that the environment we’ll see in 2020 is probably somewhere in between these two posts.

It’s true that many people will interact with digital technology in ways that have little to do with any sort of hard, intellectual labor. But is that so different from what we’ve seen in society in general over the past half-century?

There are thought leaders. There are thought consumers. And then there are the clueless. The digital tools and techniques people choose to use just make it easier to play in whatever league they wish.

It reminds me of that old adage about the three types of people found in the world: Those who make things happen … those who watch things happen … and those who wonder what happened. (And there are precious few people who fall into the first group.)

The fact is, no degree of Internet connectivity and social interactivity is going to change fundamental human nature. It doesn’t matter whether we’re hyper-connected or not.

… But let’s hear some different perspectives from others …