“Seventy-seven percent of Americans, a new high, believe the nation is divided on the most important values,” according to a Gallup poll in November of 2016. It is certainly no secret that our country is suffering from a plague of constant bashing and a fervent desire to “tribe-up.” Is it social media’s fault or is there something bigger (or smaller) at play? The answer has been staring us down almost since it began.
Today, upwards of eighty percent of Americans get their news (at least part of the time) through a digital medium, according to The Atlantic. Strangely enough, Millennials strongly prefer print textbooks. So much so, that Student Monitor found that eighty-seven percent (that’s right, 87%) of all textbooks sold in 2014 were old-fashion print. In fact, Americans as a whole prefer to read paper books, be it for pleasure or pursuit of knowledge, then books in any digital format.
Why has the percentage of Americans who have read a book in the last twelve months (73% according to Pew Research) stayed mostly unchanged since 2012? A United States Post Office & Temple University study (2015) and a separate study by Bangor University & a branding agency, Millward Brown (2009), came to a similar conclusion: paper has an emotional impact.
Forbes reported that the key findings of the study above were:
- Physical material is more “real” to the brain. It has a meaning and a place. It is better connected to memory because it engages with its spatial memory networks.
- Physical material involves more emotional processing, which is essential for memory and brand associations.
- Physical materials produced more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater “internalization” of the ads.
Naomi S. Baron, an American University linguist who studies digital communication, has surveyed readers for years. When she asked them what they least liked about reading in print, her favorite response was, “It takes me longer because I read more carefully.”
By now I am sure you have a pretty good idea of where I am going with this, but let me first say that I am a Millennial. I am not some old scholar advocating for his beloved print. In fact, I am the co-founder of a podcast network called TrueChat.org. It would not be a stretch to say that I make a living by understanding the digital landscape. That said, the problem became unavoidably clear to me when I discovered a Pew Research study from October of last year.
That study found that, to no surprise, “…[most] reading among younger adults is through digital text rather than print. About eight-in-ten (81%) of 18- to 29-year-olds who prefer to read their news also prefer to get their news online; just 10% choose a print newspaper.”
We know that most Americans prefer to read on paper, yet most news is consumed through a screen regardless of age. Various independent scientific studies tell us that humans retain information and process it more thoroughly when they read it on paper, but for some reason, the news is the exception to our preference for print. It is plain to see that this might be the gravest of mistakes.
Americans spend an enormous amount of time on social media and the internet, where our brains naturally skip around and skim information. How are we supposed to establish informed positions? Instead, we find crumbs of data and immediately establish opinions. To compound the problem further, we merely glance at opposing views that, generally speaking, are just as poorly informed. This creates a vicious cycle that leads to seventy-seven percent of Americans believing that the nation is divided on the most important of values.
I have had countless people my age, and several people of advanced years, tell me that I am strange for subscribing to The Wall Street Journal & The New York Times in print. Sadly, in the most literal sense, they are right. I am in the minority, not just of people my age, but of all Americans. This must change.
While there is a surplus of data and sources (as is evidenced by this article) to support my reading of newspapers instead of digital content, I have several additional opinions about the validity of print.
People always seem pressed for time, but the advantage of newspapers is that regardless of when you pick them up, they do not change. Now, many of you might argue that is the very reason papers are outdated, and you’d be right, but that is a terrible reason to throw them aside. The fact that a newspaper is static lets you focus. It also allows you to catch up on important stories you might have missed. These benefits just don’t exist in the digital space where day-old content drifts into an irrelevant abyss.
Newspapers are usually up to date as of a few hours before they are printed. For argument's sake, let’s generously say it is twelve hours from the time the news was finalized to the time you might read it. Twitter or Facebook supplies that information, usually in a slimmed down version, almost instantly. Answer me this, when was the last time that you called your congressman or senator within twelve hours of reading an “instant” news alert on your phone. My guess is for most of you the answer is never and, for many of you, I would wager that you’ve never called or written your representatives about anything. Likewise, I doubt that many of you have ever taken any serious action within twelve hours of any breaking news.
I know there are a lot of problems with the media. It’s the very reason I started TrueChat.org (we can discuss the validity of radio news another time), but we have to start somewhere. The core of the problem isn’t how the media reports the story, rather, it is how Americans consume the story.
Social media isn’t evil. However, those of us that use it can become diluted by it. The internet possesses a unique power to mobilize America and the world as one people. That doesn’t mean it should be the sole place we conduct our research and arguments. I know that lots of you who read this aren’t going to get a newspaper subscription tomorrow, but at the very least do these three things:
- Read entire articles from multiple national news sources.
- Use the Microsoft Edge browser reading mode or install an add-on for Google Chrome to eliminate ads and pop-ups.
- Turn on your device’s “quiet hours” or “silent mode” to disable notifications when you are reading.
None of those tips will give you the same experience as paper, but they are a step in the right direction. If we would all take one step, we’d move America about 60,000 miles forward (320 million Americans divided by 5,280 feet in a mile). I know, that was corny, but you get the point. At the very least, print this article out and give it another read. I bet you’ll find a few things you missed.
Two side notes. First, in case you are over the age of fifty and are thinking Millennials have a problem with reading, think again. Pew Research reports that “those ages 50 and older are far more likely to prefer watching news over any other method: About half (52%) of 50- to 64-year-olds and 58% of those 65 and older would rather watch the news, while…[only] three-in-ten (29% and 27%, respectively) prefer to read it.” And yes, watching the news is just as bad as consuming it digitally according to both a United States Post Office & Temple University study (2015) and a separate study by Bangor University & a branding agency, Millward Brown (2009).
Second, Millennials are not only more likely to read the news than watch it, but they are also more likely to research a topic of interest through a book than any other demographic group. See, we aren’t all bad.