Reading in an Age of Rambling Readers

Fay Lung, Acting Director of Literature Department

Peter Law, Reading Promotion Officer

Reading is increasingly far away from modern people, and book publishing has long been regarded as a sunset industry. Many bookstores and publishers are struggling to figure out how to reverse the phenomenon of “reading is dead”.
When we say “reading is dead”, it generally implies that fewer and fewer people are reading books. Some people blame the problem on technological development, believing that physical books will eventually be replaced by screens, so some are catching up with the e-book trend. This year, the Hong Kong Publishing Federation launched the “Publishing 3.0” project to provide a free “e-book conversion platform” for the local publishing industry. This project aims to encourage the local publishing industry to adopt cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to create the “Hong Kong Smart E-Book Hub” brand. Undoubtedly, we have entered the digital age, and physical books are no longer the only means of transferring content. However, is changing the medium of reading enough to bring reading back to life?

To answer this question, it is necessary to examine the human experience of reading. Since the emergence of smartphones, human behavioral patterns have undergone a rapid and unprecedented change. In Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf describes how the foundation of our culture is shifting from reading and writing to digital. Hence, “reading is dead” is not only a matter of changing the reading medium, but also a matter of cultural reshaping of the human cognitive system. Digital culture has changed the reading circuit in the brain. “The young reading brain is evolving and most people don’t even realize it, even though we have more and more young people who only read what is required and, often, not read at all,” Wolf said.[1] The reading brain is not an innate ability, but one that has been created by centuries of culture. Is the reading culture dying today? Has the “reading brain” of young people gradually evolved into a “cell phone brain”?[2] The impact of the digital world on the physical, mental and spiritual health of human beings requires further discussion and research.

While not everyone in the modern world may have dyslexia, it is inevitable that people will encounter obstacles in reading and writing. After all, concentration difficulties, weak reasoning skills, and disorganized thinking are the hallmarks of the digital and screen-based world. Promoting reading in such times is difficult, yet crucial.

Reading printed books helps people to regain their ability to concentrate and think deeply, which is why Evangelical Reading Room emphasizes the publication of physical books. Therefore, following the publication of PRAXIS—Community Service as Practice in Faith at the beginning of the year, A Spiritual Journey through Companionship with Others and Self-Understanding for Personal Well-Being (revised and extended version) are also launched at the United Christian Book Fair. We look forward to meeting and exchanging ideas with our readers face-to-face. Besides, in order to engage the reading culture, we have also set up the “Rambling Readers Concern Group” (IG: rambling_readers), which aims to observe the reading habits of modern people. Is reading and writing still possible in these times? If you value the culture of reading, please like and follow us to contemplate the meaning of reading.

[1] Maryanne Wolf, Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (New York: Harper, 2018), p.16.
[2] The concept of “cell phone brain” is originally from Skärmhjärnan by Anders Hansen.

Full text is available in Chinese version.


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