My son shocked me this morning – no, he didn’t swear, attack his sister or set the dog on fire. He told me that he struggled to maintain interest in reading a book after half an hour. It didn’t matter how exciting and fast-paced it was, he couldn’t concentrate after thirty minutes.
Coming from the most voracious reader in our family (after me, of course), I was flabbergasted. I felt like I’d lost a teammate, an ally. What had happened to the boy who used to complain there was nothing to read in the house, even though we have more crammed bookshelves in our home than anyone else in our street? What had happened to the boy who, until recently, read more books in a week than ate hot dinners?
“It’s not that I don’t like reading,” he said, when I pinned him down for interrogation. “I love to read. It’s just that I can’t concentrate for longer than half an hour.”
“Half an hour’s pretty good,” a friend said when I told her. “Mine are lucky to get past five minutes.”
There’s a lot of talk out there on the impact of the internet and social media, and that the growing expectation for instant gratification is rewiring our brains. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that technology has many benefits, an obvious one being that it has opened up the sharing and exchanging of information, the accessibility of information to all.
I’m doing this blog, aren’t I?
But if technology is, in fact, altering the way our brains function, where will it lead? How will humans interact and learn years down the track? Will industry be required to alter its views on productivity due to limited attention spans in its workforce? How will it affect our schools? Society as a whole?
Reading books involves using our imagination to think about concepts, to visualize possible outcomes. All of mankind’s great achievements have occurred due to this use of imagination, the “what if” factor. With so much information now boxed and served up on a digital platter, will we lose the ability to work things out for ourselves? And lose the patience we need to try?
Which brings me back to my son: I’m grateful he still loves reading. I hope he never loses it. I’ll settle for half an hour, over less.
But I notice he never loses interest in his digital gadgets…
Has an interest in reading declined as your children (or you) have got older?