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A common sight in malls, in pizza parlors, and wherever else American teens han…

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A common sight in malls, in pizza parlors, and wherever else American teens hang out: three or four kids, hooded, gathered around a table, leaning over like monks or druids, their eyes fastened to the smartphones held in front of them. The phones, converging at the centre of the table, come close to touching. The teens are making a communion of a sort. Looking at them, you can envy their happiness. You can also find yourself wishing them immersed in a different kind of happiness — in a superb book or a series of books, in the reading obsession itself! You should probably keep on wishing.

It’s very likely that teenagers, attached to screens of one sort or another, read more words than they ever have in the past. But they often read scraps, excerpts, articles, parts of articles, messages, pieces of information from everywhere and from nowhere. It’s likely that they are reading fewer books. Yes, millions of kids have read “Harry Potter”, “The Lord of the Rings”, “The Hunger Games”, and other fantastic and dystopian fictions; also vampire romance, graphic novels, and convulsively exciting street literature. Yet what happens as they move toward adolescence?

When they become twelve or thirteen, kids often stop reading seriously. The boys veer off into sports or computer games, the girls into friendship in all its wrenching mysteries and satisfactions of favor and exclusion. Much of their social life, for boys as well as girls, is now conducted on smartphones, where teenagers don’t have to confront one another.

American teenagers are less likely to read ‘for fun’ at seventeen than at thirteen. The category of reading ‘for fun’ is itself a little depressing, since it divides reading into duty (for school) and gratification (sitting on a beach towel), as if the two were necessarily opposed. My own observation, after spending a lot of time talking to teenagers in recent years: reading anything serious has become a chore, like doing the laundry or preparing a meal for a kid brother. Or, if it’s not a chore, it’s just an activity, like swimming or shopping, an activity like any other. It’s not something that runs through the rest of their lives. In sum, reading has lost its privileged status; few kids are ashamed that they’re not doing it much.

Of course, these kids are very busy. School, homework, sports, jobs, clothes, parents, brothers, sisters, half-brothers, half-sisters, friendships, hanging out, music, and, most of all, screens (TV, Internet, games, texting) — compared with all of that, reading a book is a weak, petulant claimant on their time. Reading frustrates their smartphone sense of being everywhere at once. Suddenly, they are stuck on that page, anchored, moored, and many are glum about it. Being unconnected makes them anxious and even angry. “Books smell like old people,” I heard a student say in New Haven. Yes, I know: this is not a new story. Digital culture has enveloped us more quickly and more thoroughly than most of us had imagined. But what can be done about it? Many adults, overwhelmed by a changed reality, shrug off the problem. After all, reading technologies have changed in the past; television altered consciousness and social patterns sixty years ago, and kids survived and became adults. And nowadays if teachers can make books important to kids — and forge the necessary link to pleasure and need — those kids may turn off the screens. At least for a few vital hours.

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What do teenagers prefer to reading seriously according to the author?

  1. Both boys and girls prefer sports.
  2. Both boys and girls prefer computer games.
  3. Both boys and girls prefer social life conducted on phones.
  4. Both boys and girls prefer friendship and interaction.

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