Reading More Or Appreciating Less Friction

Somewhere, we got it in our heads that reading requires all kinds of constructs – paper, flipping pages, uninterrupted experiences, etc. And yes, to consume information does require some of these, but for one reason or another, report after report are finding it surprising that digital effects seem to do a lot for Gen Y and younger folks enjoying the behavior of reading more. I’d argue that it has less to do with reading as a behavior, and more to do with the fact that much about digital reading reduces the friction that some traditionalists believe is necessary.

I will start with myself as an example. I never liked to read as a kid/teen. And frankly, I knew very few around me who did enjoy reading. We read because we had to, and most of the time what we were asked to read was filled with obscure accessory material that did more to make us want to skim the content than to dive within it to learn more.

One of the more profound moments of my life was when in being told to go the library for a summer reading program in my early teen years, that I got so angry that I blanked out and ended up being hit be a car. Psychiatric evaluations confirmed what I had been saying all along about pressuring a bro to read, but that didn’t stop the fact that reading was still problematic.

When I entered college, it was more about reading. But, but the halfway point there, I realized that when I could take my reading content electronic, I enjoyed it a lot more. Even better was when I was able to get content on my PDA (some Palm model variant). I was not only reading, but enjoying the small screen and snippets of information. Some of the reading content came through applications that allowed me to remix the content with my own highlighting and notes. Reading became something that I didn’t mind doing.

After college, reading increased. What they don’t tell you before you graduate is that you will have to read to stay on top of your industry, practice to get ahead, and read to be ahead of that still. Presently, I’m reading two “books” and roughly 300 websites per day of various types of content. Given how much that I write, one might regard it as amazing. Thing is, as my reading has become more based around digital media, its actually gotten easier to consume and understand the content.

These days, I’m reading for work and for pleasure. I’m doing most of it either on a smartphone or my iPad. The occasional times that I roam into a bookstore, I usually have my iPad in hand because I know that if I find something that I like, I will most likely purchase it digitally. There’s less friction towards actually reading that way.

I would assume that similar is the case for the kids named in this report. These kids are not able to “enjoy” reading – nor ingest the content – because to them, analog books require too much mental effort. In most cases, they really are products of a world where most of their livable content comes to them in streams and in manners that requires little in the way of bending to pre-industrial revolution-style analogies. And so they don’t read – that is, until you put a device like a Kindle or iPad in front of them. A device that parses out the content in a personalized chunk and without the weight of “feeling like its reading.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all kids are like this. But, I am taking note of the fact that all of us are like this. None of us like friction when doing much of anything. We like for experiences, especially ones that are supposed to feed us, to be ripe with opportunity and not so much with friction. And for most of us, until we “learn” to like reading, much of what revolves around the behavior and intent of reading is a bunch of friction.

I’d argue that if a user experience practicioner were to do that study, they would find the same thing. Certain segments of our populations do not read, or acquire knowledge through reading, as easily because of some unnecessary friction that comes with the action.

Of course, the other side of that is that going digital is ripe with friction too; but that is because we are speaking also from a context that is founded in a different set of base actions. What would be most interesting would be to see a blank slate study – one where a person has no foundational behaviors and is equally exposed to analog and digital behaviors.

I wonder what their response will be, and if having both sets of methodologies will be an enablement or a determent to how they exists/prosper in the world around them