Does internet use compromise reading time?


As I explained in an earlier post, my review-essay “Twilight of the Books” appears in the 24 December 2007 issue of The New Yorker, and as an online supplement, I’m summarizing some of the data that I drew from, organizing the summaries by topic, and including links where I can. These are merely evidence in raw form and are probably a bit indigestible taken en masse. For analysis and discussion and hopefully a more pleasant read, please see the New Yorker article itself.

Previously: Does television impair academic performance and cognitive development? Today: Does internet use improve or impair academic performance? Does it decrease the amount of time spent reading?

  • In a 2006 survey of the existing research, written as the preface to an experimental study, the authors concluded that “causal relationships have been difficult to establish” between children’s computer use and their academic achievement, although “available evidence suggests that having a home computer is linked to somewhat better academic performance.” As with television, it is difficult to get reliable information about hours of internet use from self reports, and what children do online is likely to be even more variable than what they watch on television. In the HomeNetToo study, 140 Michigan children who were eligible for federal school-lunch subsidies—mostly African Americans with single mothers—were given home computers and internet access in 2001 and 2002 in exchange for allowing researchers to monitor their internet use. According to an early report, an increase in internet use improved grades at twelve months and sixteen months, and improved reading scores on standardized tests at six months and later (math scores were unchanged). A later report found correlations between the types of websites visited and academic performance. Students’ math scores on standardized tests were improved if they visited websites about technology, music, corporations, web services, downloads, pornography, and search engines, among others. Students’ reading scores were improved by visiting websites associated with technology, downloads, MSN/Yahoo, and pornography. [Linda A. Jackson, Alexander von Eye, Frank A. Biocca, Gretchen Barbatsis, Yong Zhao, and Hiram E. Fitzgerald, “Does Home Internet Use Influence the Academic Performance of Low-Income Children?” Developmental Psychology 2006. Linda A. Jackson, Ricky Samona, Jeff Moomaw, Lauren Ramsay, Christopher Murray, Amy Smith, and Lindsay Murray, “What Children Do on the Internet: Domains Visited and Their Relationship to Socio-Demographic Characteristics and Academic Performance,” {link to citation only} Cyber Psychology and Behavior 2007.]

  • In a spring 2000 study of 410 third graders in northern California, students with a with a computer at home scored higher on several tests. [Dina L. G. Borzekowski and Thomas N. Robinson, “The Remote, the Mouse, and the No. 2 Pencil: The Household Media Environment and Academic Achievement among Third Grade Students,” Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, July 2005.]

  • In 2002, students who emailed friends or family once or twice a month scored higher on a national reading test than those who emailed either more rarely or more frequently. On a 500-point scale, students who never or hardly ever emailed scored 279, those who emailed once or twice a month scored 289, those who emailed once or twice a week scored 281, and those who emailed almost every day scored 284. On the other hand, in 2002 and 2005, the more often that students read articles on the internet not required for schoolwork, the higher they scored on the test. [National Center for Education Statistics, “National Assessment of Education Progress Data Explorer,” incorporating data from reading assessments conducted in 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2005.]

  • In a 2005 review of the sociological research about reading, three authors noted that internet use has correlated positively with book-reading in a number of recent studies. The authors suspect, however, that the correlation has been caused by “cultural omnivores,” elite and proficient consumers of culture, who adopt new technologies early and consume more of every media and genre than most people. As internet use spreads to average readers, pressure to choose between book-reading and internet-surfing will increase, and a new gap will open between those who “read books on a regular basis” and those who merely “read as part of their jobs, online activities, and the daily business of living.” [Wendy Griswold, Terry McDonnell, and Nathan Wright, “Reading and the Reading Class in the Twenty-First Century,” Annual Review of Sociology 2005.]

  • A 2001 Gallup poll of 512 adults found that regular computer users spent 1.5 hours daily online, and that they spent as much time reading books as those who were not regular computer users—1.1 hours daily. Participants reported watching an average of 2.5 hours of television daily. [Jennifer Robison, “Does Reading Still Stack Up,” Gallup Tuesday Briefing, 3 September 2002.]

Next: Is it more efficient to learn by reading print, by reading online, or by watching video?

UPDATE (27 Feb. 2009): For ease in navigating, here’s a list of all the blog posts I wrote to supplement my New Yorker article “Twilight of the Books”:

Notebook: “Twilight of the Books” (overview)
Are Americans Reading Less?
Are Americans Spending Less on Reading?
Is Literacy Declining?
Does Television Impair Intellect?
Does Internet Use Compromise Reading Time?
Is Reading Online Worse Than Reading Print?
I also later talked about the article on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show and on KUER’s Radio West.
And, as a bonus round: Does media violence lead to real violence, and do video games impair academic performance?

One thought on “Does internet use compromise reading time?”

  1. Thanks for the New Yorker article, Caleb, and the references detailed here. I'm a bookish person who facilitates a photography and autobiography workshop for kids at the crossroads of several oral cultures. There are enough still images around for my students to work out the photo part but the biography part stops them. I'm glad there's scholarship devoted to the difficulties.

    Lisa K, photographer, NYC

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