Some time between discovering Netflix and receiving my first high school reading assignment, I stopped reading books. My priorities shifted from finding out the fate of Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin after their encounter with the Man with Red Eyes, to finding out what happened to Agent Scully after she was abducted by aliens.
I became more concerned with fleeting soundbites and less excited by everlasting words on a page.
I know I’m not the only person with this problem, and especially not the only millennial. Millennials grew up in the midst of a societal shift from page to screen, from VHS to DVD to streaming, from CD to MP3.
Now, there’s an incredible amount of information available, and we expect to get that information in five seconds or less. If we don’t, we check our wifi connection. So, if books can’t be read, processed and understood in five seconds, then what’s the point of reading them?
But it would be irresponsible to blame this problem solely on the habits of my own generation. It’s not really our fault, anyway.
Yes, we may have shorter attention spans, but that doesn’t mean we’re stupid – we just process information faster. When boring required reading in high school is added to the mix, we can throw reading for pleasure down the drain.
When I was a kid, I read books like my life depended on it. Nancy Drew was my hero, Esperanza Ortega was my inspiration and Charlie was my pen pal. I used bubble mint gum wrappers to mark my favorite quotes, and I mastered the art of dog-earing pages to the exact word I stopped reading at.
But my love for reading halted the moment I opened "Fahrenheit 451" the summer before my freshman year of high school. I’ve read the book a second time since then, and I can appreciate it in all of my adult-ness, but at 14 years old, I had no idea how I was supposed to interpret book burning and reading the Bible in its entirety on the train.
For the first time in my academic life, I felt dumb, unable to understand the material I was supposed to be understanding.
This got worse as I moved through required reading after required reading. Eventually, I just stopped reading books altogether. I wasn’t keeping up with "The Heart of Darkness" or "A Tale of Two Cities" in my World Literature class, and I barely opened "House of Mirth" or "Jane Eyre" in my AP English classes.
Somehow, I still managed to get good grades in those classes, but that’s beside the point.
My distaste for the books I was required to read in school translated into a distaste for books in general. At that point, books took too long to finish, weren’t as important as binging “The X-Files,” “Glee” or “Friends,” had words in them that I didn’t know and were difficult to fully understand.
But I can’t blame this problem on the high school system, either. The books they make us read really are important, anyway.
It was around this time in high school that I got my first job. I only worked about 12 hours a week, but my dramatic high school self-thought this excruciating schedule excused me from completing my required reading.
Instead, I scrolled through Tumblr or fell down Wikipedia rabbit holes. I was completely turned off by reading and turned on to my phone.
The phone issue hasn’t gone away. I wish I could read for pleasure more often, but I just don’t have time – this time for real. And that bothers me.
I’m 19 years old. I shouldn’t be scrambling to fit time into my schedule to read a chapter of a good book simply because I feel the need to watch 13 YouTube videos in a row or try to beat another level of "Best Fiends" in between homework assignments.
But I can’t blame this problem on having a job, a lot of homework and an iPhone, either. Everyone else has the same problems, anyway.I don’t know if there is any real solution to this problem. Maybe we can all take a cue from Andrew Sullivan and put our phones away for a bit, and we might end up finishing the book that’s been sitting on the nightstand for three months. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to read every now and then. Baby steps.