Read it and Weep: Boomers 1, Gen Z 0

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Read it and Weep: Boomers 1, Gen Z 0

Katie Redefer - Graphic by Ally Rzesa / Beacon Staff

Katie Redefer - Graphic by Ally Rzesa / Beacon Staff

Katie Redefer - Graphic by Ally Rzesa / Beacon Staff

Katie Redefer - Graphic by Ally Rzesa / Beacon Staff

By Katie Redefer

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As an elementary school student, I was that kid who got yelled at by the teacher for reading in the back of the classroom. With my nose tucked into The Lightning Thief or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I tuned out the rest of the world and solely existed in a universe of fantasy and adventure, even if only for a moment. 

Sixth and seventh grade mirrored elementary school, except I swapped my old books for new novels such as The Hunger Games trilogy and the Twilight saga. I flipped through young adult science fiction and romance like it was my job. Yet, once I reached eighth grade, a monumental change happened in my life—I traded my old flip phone for my first iPhone.

I didn’t stop reading all at once—if anything, I read as much as I used to before having a smartphone. However, once I reached high school, teachers began piling on homework, and my extracurriculars became more time-consuming, so suddenly my free time was cut in half. By the time I came home from school, my brain was fried. Every evening, I wanted to scroll through memes rather than read a book because of the mental exhaustion from all my responsibilities. Now that I’m in college, the problem continues due to even more activities and classes that occupy my mental space.

I want to clarify that I do still read for leisure, and it is still something I enjoy. However, I’ve found that the older I get the harder it becomes for me to focus on longer and more dense readings. In my youth, I could plow through a 300-page novel in a day or two. Perhaps I’m no longer capable of this because I read more challenging material, but at times I wonder if my increased internet time has taken a bigger toll on my attention span than I’m aware of. Sometimes I feel I’ve lost a part of my old identity when I think about how much less I read when compared to my younger self. 

I am not alone in this struggle with lack of motivation to read. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2016 indicates that only 16 percent of seniors in high school read a book or magazine every day, as opposed to the 60 percent of seniors who did in 1970. This same study also found seniors in 2016 spend twice as much time online as seniors in 2006 did, and that the average teen today spends six hours a day on their electronics.

To be frank, iPhones and computers are often more engaging than books. While I cherish nothing more than a good story, my Twitter feed has a much quicker pay off in entertainment than a novel. Once I opened the Pandora’s box that is endless online content, it was hard to go back to traditional forms of leisure activities like reading a book.

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I think most of us can agree the age of technology has lessened our attention span for books, especially when it comes to reading recreationally. This applies to all generations—an American Time Use survey found that the percentage of Americans who read for leisure on a given day dropped from 28 percent in 2004 to 19 percent in 2017. With constant notifications of the newest Kardashian drama or an international crisis popping up on our phones every five minutes, it’s hard to expect any age group to concentrate on a book. Naturally, the generation that grew up using the internet the most is going to have the hardest time paying attention to the pages of a book amongst electronic distractions.

It’s incredibly easy for me to sit here and list all the flaws of Generation Z, defined as the generation born between the years 1996 and onward by the Pew Research Center.  The truth is that every generation has their varying flaws. Take my boomer mother, for example, who thought she made a ground-breaking discovery when she realized there was a camera on the front side of her iPhone X—sorry, Mom. Maybe Gen Z spends too much time on their phones and laptops, but at least we have a base level of understanding how technology functions and how to optimize our use of such devices. 

As it’s been said many times, Gen Z masters multi-tasking with our use of many screens and devices at once. So, while we may not be great at sitting down and actually reading an assigned book front to back, we can read four different online summaries at once and somehow write an A+ analysis essay without actually reading the first page.  

So, fine—I’ll give the boomers one point for my generation’s lack of leisure reading time. But I refuse to believe that Gen Z hates reading for fun, or never does it. Working in a bookstore for the past two summers, I witness people my age buy books more often when they’re on vacation and have the time to enjoy it. Perhaps my generation reads less books as a whole, but they do read—just on their own time. Millions of teens and young adults also read online fanfiction on websites such as Tumblr and Wattpad, which I discussed in a literature column last semester. 

Having less time and attention span to dedicate to reading during the school year has one upside. When I finally do have time to read, which usually happens during my summers at home when I have beach time, I enjoy reading so much more. I have time to quiet my mind and focus on the words in front of me, something I can rarely do at school. As I nestle a book in the summer heat, I reminisce of the days I spent reading as a child, and for just a moment, my mind slips into the sublime that is reading a good book.