A recent New York Times article reported that:
“Sales of adult books fell by 10.3 percent in the first three months of 2016, and children’s books dropped by 2.1 percent. E-book sales fell by 21.8 percent, and hardcover sales were down 8.5 percent. The strongest categories were digital audiobooks, which rose by 35.3 percent.”
The Times proffered several explanations including the lack of a “hit” book that draws readers to purchase that and other books and a decline in leisure reading (in one study the National Endowment of the Arts found that in 2015 only 43% of American adults had read a work of literature for pleasure in the previous year).
I think that the explanation is simpler. When you read a hardback, paperback or e-book it is very difficult to multitask and the research shows that we all – and I mean all – love to try to do more than one thing at a time. When you listen to a book your hands are free to type or tap and your mind is free to wander. No page turning required!
My lab has been studying distraction and multitasking in a variety of ways and our conclusions match what others have found:
Students, adults, office workers and other studied groups appear to be able to maintain attention and focus for 3-5 minutes at a time before being distracted.
We are so enmeshed with our smartphones that nearly all of us experience phantom pocket vibrations at least once a week. Many of us pat our pockets or check our purse often just to make sure that our phone is still there. If we misplace our phone panic ensues.
In our new book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, Dr. Adam Gazzaley and I make a case for precisely why our ancient brains are not wired to juggle multiple streams of information and offer solid strategies to make your brain function better in our technology-rich world. The book is available on amazon as well as MIT Press website.