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Books and millennials: Do we still read for leisure?

Patricia Tobing
Patricia Tobing

An observer-thinker student who loves literature and food more than people

Yogyakarta  /  Thu, May 17, 2018  /  01:36 pm
Books and millennials: Do we still read for leisure?

Smelling the scent of books is a joy for many readers. But is this still the case with millennials? (Shutterstock/File)

As one of the largest generations in history, millennials are seen to portray many new characteristics. When examining current beliefs, those who were born from 1980 until 2000 are frequently generalized as a lazy, unable to focus and easily bored generation.

Millennials have grown up in a time of rapid change and technological advancement, which gives them access to digital technology right at their fingertips. This has also created one notable feature of this generation, a tendency to become attached to their gadgets.

This is not bewildering, as nowadays gadgets really have it all, spanning from learning to play. Such devices are able to provide many sources of entertainment, ranging from games and lifestyle applications to various types of social media.

So, does this digital generation still consider reading to be a source of enjoyment like the older generation did? Or have they changed?

Reading books has been a prominent source of leisure from generation to generation, especially when other forms of entertainment such as banquets, music concerts or art performances were unavailable or highly priced. Among the various genres, each book offers its own excitement for readers. The concept of reading, specifically books, has grown not only in regards to learning but also as a means to escape reality and enjoy a holiday in one's own imagination.

However, these recent technological advancements have introduced us to easier, cheaper, even free sources of entertainment. Free access to music videos, pictures, songs and games on the internet is available anytime, anywhere. Hence, it comes as quite a surprise that the percentage of millennials who enjoy reading is still remarkably high.

A study conducted in the United States by the PEW research center in 2016 showed that young adults (millennials) are more likely to read books than older adults. The percentage of young adults (age between 18-29) triumphed in all four specific purposes for reading books, ranging from work and school purposes, research purposes, to keeping up with recent events and for pleasure.

Astonishingly, the rapid development of technology has in fact brought many alternative ways for people to read, with many books also obtainable as electronic books (e-books), which are provided through various applications and websites. The study mentioned that although the majority of people still stick to reading conventional print-books, the number of smartphones/tablets used to access e-books is increasing. This is an acknowledgment that the renowned role of books has not changed. It is unavoidably true that the form in which books are read might experience a modification, yet it doesn’t make the current generation less engaged with narratives than the previous generation.

Many people from Generation Y believe that as easy as it is to access articles or play games online, there are still many things that only books can provide. Books can give a sense of freedom to be ourselves with our own thoughts and feelings in this demanding, fast-moving, no-privacy online world, which makes them very entertaining and stress-relieving. Reading is frequently considered something of a low-cost vacation with yourself that allows you to relax and cultivate your mind at the same time. So, next time you see a young adult staring intently at their mobile phone, remember, they could be reading the latest romance novel.

Sadly, however, this lifestyle isn't the norm in all parts of the world. In a study conducted by the Central Connecticut State University in the US, Indonesia ranks 60th out of 61 countries in terms of reading interest, either for educational or leisure activities. Many argued that this was caused by a lack of access to books. On the other hand, the number of smartphone users in Indonesia is growing gradually, which supposedly improves access to reading materials. However, it does not, by any means, increase the interest in reading. A survey conducted by the Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association (APJII) in 2017 showed that internet usage in Indonesia is dominated by chatting and social media.

Despite this data, it is simply unjustifiable to generalize that the millennials of Indonesia are a generation that doesn’t enjoy reading. As a regular bookstore visitor, I personally have seen many young adults get very excited when discussing the novels they have read or are about to read with their friends. It is also not hard to find parents with their children exploring hundreds of books together.

Aside from the books sold in bookstores, e-books also have their own charm, especially for students and workers. They are practical, accessible anytime, anywhere, and are sometimes free. Not to mention, they save space in your bag.

It is also worth noting that the goal to increase access to books and boost the interest in reading is not the effort of one actor alone. Hand in hand with various programs by the government, NGOs and civil society, I think we are moving in the right direction.

As the form of books evolves to respond to our current situation and needs, it becomes essential for us to make the most out of it. Reading is crucial to any generation, either for education or entertainment. It helps the mind to generate new ideas, stimulates the imagination, widens our horizons and improves memory and concentration. It is an important instrument not only for millennials but for any age group to prepare for the hazy upcoming days. (kes)


Patricia Tobing is a second year student in the School of Social and Political Sciences at Gadjah Mada University. She will be attending an exchange program at Leiden University, Netherlands, in August 2018.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.