People Don’t Read Anymore

booksWhile in conversation with a college professor, I was startled to hear her say, “I use a lot of pictures because they don’t read anymore.”
I blinked while she picked up her latte for another sip. Pictures? Who doesn’t read?
This professor teaches college-age students at a major university but also evening business courses for working professionals who range in age from 30 to 60.
At first, I thought she meant her students don’t read literature or current events. But when I asked, she said no, she meant directions, requirements, instructions.
On multiple-choice quizzes, she’s started putting a graphic of a pencil along with a starred checkbox next to the paragraph that says, “Check the best answer.”
She bullets assignment instructions with colorful emoji. “And,” she added, “I never put out anything that is single-spaced. That would be just too dense for today’s students to read. I even make sure to put a picture or a graphic between paragraphs.”
Is she bigoted against millennials? No—she told me that her older evening students suffer from the same condition. There was no censure in her voice. She was simply stating an observation.
I mentioned that sometimes we notice a similar issue when first-time clients request a quote. Even though the price is labeled PRICE and the proposed delivery date is labeled TIMELINE, it isn’t unusual for a new client with our quote in hand to request information on cost or ask how long the job will take.
One of my good friends runs a music group at her church and gives them a printed music list each week. Even though each song is listed with the book it comes from, which verses will be sung, and what key it will be in, she says someone asks those questions every week.
My conversation with the professor turned to the why of this phenomenon. It’s not age; we’ve seen the behavior in people from their mid-20s to their 60s. And it’s not educational level because, although our language-related skills usually reflect our education, we’ve seen both people with PhDs and those with only a high school diploma look at text and simply not absorb what’s there.
We’ve both noticed that websites today have much less text than those of 10 years ago. And they have many more pictures. (My own pet peeve is being forced to scroll past large images just to find the one line of text I need.) Perhaps we’re training people to expect all information to come in short bursts like social media posts and be as colorful and interesting as the ads produced for the Olympics. Or perhaps we are all so overscheduled that there isn’t time to absorb a dense text.
Have you noticed this phenomenon? In what situation? What do you think is the cause?
I’d enjoy hearing your opinion!
Patricia May
President and CEO


About tembua

Tembua: The Precision Language Solution provides comprehensive linguistic services for 100 languages to private industry and government agencies on a global scale. Services include document and website translation and localization; conference and 24/7 telephonic interpretation; glossary development; proofreading, text adaptation, editing, multilingual design and DTP; transcription; technical / custom authoring editing, foreign search engine optimization; translation memory management; subtitling.
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