We each surveyed a few fellow students about their reading habits and schedules as part of class. The assignment was meant to be an exercise for us to understand how the average university student fills a day. It included questions, like how many books they own, how much time do they spend reading or on other media, how often they finish reading assignments for class, do they consider themselves to be god readers, etc. There isn’t enough data to draw any conclusions about our generation or even college students in general, but there are a couple of things I realized when the class met to compare results.
The first is that we are college students surveying college students. We have the highest likelihood of reading than most other groups. Homework and studying alone account for most reading done per day. In addition to that, a person seeking higher education after high school is also likely to read for pleasure (and to find it pleasurable). So, the results will be skewed in favor of that. However, there are some things about us so-called great college readers that you may not expect. We have a lot of books, yes–one girl I surveyed even ran into her room to count her 150 books–but in general we own very few “literary” books that aren’t required by school.
The second thing I noticed is that there is no time set aside for reading. When asked how long they go until they stop reading, most people just replied “When I get tired” or “until I feel like it.” It makes sense, considering all that a college student needs to fit in a day: homework, studying, work, food, commute, class, clubs, the list goes on and on and on and on. A busy life devoted to more than eight hours of web access and social situations (aside from class and studying) per day does not leave much room for pleasure. Reading becomes a lower priority.
Third is a two out of three preference for hold-in-your-hand hard copy books rather than digital e-books. Today’s children are growing up learning how to operate their parents’ tablet, but I think current students are old enough to consider the book as an artifact more emotionally valuable than the electronic version. I could survey every college student in the country, and probably more than two thirds would prefer the book.
So I conclude that a pattern is emerging in which the average university student owns piles of books, but doesn’t have the time to read them. Books are a commodity that’s so easy to get a hold of, especially with Amazon and secondhand book stores. The non-literary novels and series are also gaining more popularity. We begin collecting these books out of some compulsion for knowledge we don’t have time for. I own many books I haven’t read yet, and the number of literary books can be counted on one hand. I know my own reading list is as wide as my bookshelf.