Are we becoming a "readless" society?

Michelle Catap Lacson
Michelle Catap Lacson

More than thirteen years ago, I wrote a paper titled "Are we becoming a paperless society?" for one of my grad school Comm subjects. It goes:

A paperless society is one of the highest goals that Microsoft founder Bill Gates aims to accomplish before he dies. During a speaking engagement at the Royal Spanish Academy years ago, Gates explains his goal of “putting an end to paper and then to books.” Following his judgment that books are “anachronistic objects”, Gates firmly believes that “computer screens can replace paper in all the functions that paper has heretofore assumed.” Gates further enumerated the advantages of using computers in place of books and paper—first, it is a less onerous duty to bring several books at once and the space that books may occupy may be done away with since storing the digital copies in an iPad or a tablet is very convenient. Second, the electronic transmission of news and literature will have ecological advantages by saving more trees and thus alleviating the destruction of forests. Gates’ end in sight is seeing people continuing to read, but this time, reading on computer screens.

The above modernistic reading approach may seem very convenient for most of us, we cannot however disregard the disadvantages that go along with this. For one, prolonged reading using a computer or a gadget has bad effects on our health, especially on our eyes. Another is the limitation of electrical gadgets, especially when there is a power interruption or when your laptop goes out of charge.

I believe that achieving a perfect balance between reading books and digital reading is the way to go. Reading books should be a de rigueur interest in the early years of childhood, and once nurtured until the older years, then the convenience of digital reading may be enjoyed as a luxury that reading grown-ups can be entitled to. As the saying goes, we always have to learn the basics first.

I am one of the millennials who still prefer a hardbound book or a printed copy of any material over electronic copies. I am not sure why but I seem to not understand very well when I read on a computer or tablet over scanning through paperback copies of books and printed materials. If it permits, I would still prefer to read the material on paper over a digital copy.

However, news of bookstores and magazine companies closing down operations in recent years implies that the interest in reading has significantly declined, with fewer people still desiring to read books and magazines. Yesterday, I read a news article saying that Reader's Digest UK has announced its closure after 86 long years of publication. I can still remember how this magazine together with Time (my dad was a subscriber) had contributed to my interest in reading and even writing. I stacked these magazines up and made them into a sort of collection that also became part of our bookshelf at home together with the encyclopedias and other reference books used by my parents.

And so the question is not us becoming a paperless society, but the question may be more aptly put if we are becoming a "readless" society. I think the answer is a terrifying one since our younger generation is more comfortable using their gadgets and consuming new ideas and knowledge through reels and videos which has made their attention span quite short and limited.

According to the 2022 World Bank data on learning poverty, "at least 90% of Filipino children aged 10 struggle to read or understand simple text." The 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results showed that 15-year old Filipino students ranked last in reading proficiency among all countries/territories, with only 19% meeting the minimum (Level 2) standard, and these show that "interventions to address poor reading proficiency need to go beyond the curriculum and instructional interventions. What is needed are localized interventions that try to improve the psychosocial experiences of students in school, and that involve stakeholders from the local communities."

Hence, the Catch-Up Fridays or "DEAR Day" was introduced by the Department of Education last January to cultivate the students' love for reading and eventually address comprehension and literacy problems that beset this generation's young learners. This encourages learners to read a book of their choice independently and silently for a relatively short period during class periods every Friday. This is part of implementing Catch-Up Fridays across elementary and secondary schools and community learning centers (CLCs) nationwide which allows the Fridays of January for DEAR activities.

Aside from the schools, the home should also be a conducive environment where younger people can develop and cultivate their interest in reading. Most of the time and it is possible, my husband and I would prefer buying our kids books rather than toys. It is one of our strategies to divert our kids from having too much screen time and take a break from online content.

In our current generation where AI is in our midst, it seems that everything that helped us develop critical thinking and creativity such as reading is becoming obsolete. I hope we will do something drastic about this because regret always comes last.

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