Monday, February 14, 2011

How Do You Define Reading?

From Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications.

The American Time Use survey, which is taken annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, asks Americans what they did minute by minute during the previous 24 hours. Their activities are classified into categories such as "reading for personal interest" and "computer use for leisure." Here's the question: How does the Time Use Survey classify reading a book on an iPad? Is it computer use or reading?

Not a problem, according to the time use experts at the BLS. Computers, they say, are tools for accomplishing other tasks. When respondents report using a computer, the interviewer then asks what they were doing on the computer. If they were reading a newspaper or book on their iPad, the activity is classified as reading, not computer use. Similarly, if they were using their computer to manage their money, the activity is classified as financial management rather than computer use. In fact, the category "computer use for leisure" is nothing more than a residual--what little remains after assigning all possible computer use to other activities...

This is good news because it means the time use survey category "reading for personal interest" is positioned to capture any changes in time spent reading due to e-readers. An increase in reading might be on the way, according to an analysis posted by Read It Later, an app that allows users to save articles on their computers and phones for later reading. The company's data show a spike in iPad reading between 8 and 10 pm--typically television time. Could e-reading compete with television as a prime-time activity? Maybe, but it is not happening yet. Between 2005 and 2009, the average person spent a lot more time watching TV and slightly less time reading. There is one exception, however. Teenagers aged 15 to 19 spent a bit more time reading and a bit less time watching TV. Is this a blip or a sign of things to come?

For more about American time use see New Strategist's American Time Use or visit the ATUS web site.

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