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Are Books and Readers a Thing of the Past?

book.jpgThis week in the Boston Globe, there was an article about the decline in reading for pleasure - especially among people under 24, but true across the board.  Ironically, the cover story in Newsweek this week concerns the Amazon Kindle- a $399 electronic book reader that will allow users to download books from Amazon wirelessly.  This is a logical move for Amazon.  They are already a center of gravity for readers, and this provides them with an alternate channel to readers who'll appreciate a lightweight portable device that allows them to carry many of their favorite books, newspapers and blogs wherever they go.   While the technology blogs were abuzz with critiques of the design and business model yesterday (See Andrew Lavallee's Wall Street Journal blog for a sampling),  an equally interesting question to me is whether the eBook readers like the Kindle can have any impact on making reading for pleasure more attractive to those who don't.

What does this all have to do with workforce management?  Think about the following quote from the Globe article:

"Seventy-two percent of employers rated high school graduates deficient in writing, and 38 percent cited reading deficiency. One out of five American workers reads at a lower level than necessary to do his or her job. Not surprisingly, proficient readers are more likely to attain management jobs and higher incomes."

Despite heavy high school and college course loads, both of my kids read for pleasure in addition to their reading required for school- which admittedly puts them in a minority among their friends.  (Business model note to Jeff Bezos, by the way - my college sophomore isn't particularly interested in reading novels on the Kindle, but thinks it would be fantastic as a means of managing all her required texts and other reading vs. hauling texts all over campus.)

In a different way, though, this generation is even more engaged with the written word than ever before.  Although they all carry cell phones, they do a lot more text messaging than calling.  They communicate via IM and online communities like FaceBook.  They're in constant interaction, but often at an arm's length remove - electronically buffered from voice to voice or face to face communications.  Unfortunately, while the quantity of written communication may be growing, the quality of the communication is linked to immediacy, not grammar.  This may not be a problem when you're "chatting" with friends, but quickly becomes a problem when you're relying on the quality of your written communication to persuade others to your point of view in a business setting.

Per the Globe article, literacy is directly linked to success on the job.  Above and beyond literacy, plunging into a great book and discovering a new insight is one of the great pleasures of being a reader.  Treat yourself this long weekend - read a book. 

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