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New Zealanders are distracted readers, new research finds


New Zealanders spend half their waking lives online, are flicking between multiple texts at any given time, and are less likely to engage in long text, a new study shows.

Reading in a Digital Age, a unique insight into New Zealanders’ reading behaviour, has been released by Read NZ Te Pou Muramura (formerly New Zealand Book Council).

Unlike previous studies of our reading habits, this research was in part experiential and involved texting participants at various points across the day and week to monitor what they were reading at that moment in time. Previous studies have relied solely on what people have been able to recall of their reading behaviour.

The study found that at any point in time, two thirds of us are reading something and of those who are reading, 70% are reading online. We are most likely to be reading our emails, news websites or our social media feeds.

This online reading usually involves skimming and switching between different texts and devices at the same time. 53% of those surveyed said they usually skipped over long text when reading online.

44% said they found it harder to read long and challenging content than they did in the past. This is especially true of those aged 25-54 and tertiary qualified New Zealanders.

However, a third say they are reading more now than ever before because of the availability of content and ease and enjoyment of switching between formats.

Older New Zealanders, especially women, are still reading books for pleasure. The research concludes that online reading is displacing book reading, though not replacing it.

Read NZ CEO Jo Cribb says the organisation wanted to follow its previous research reports with a more in-depth look at online reading to better understand what people were actually doing.

“While we know much about our book reading habits, we also know that on average we spend half our waking life online. We wanted to learn more about what and how we are reading on our devices,” she says.

“The good news is that reading is such an important part of New Zealanders’ lives. But it is concerning that we’re finding it harder to read long and challenging content online than we might have in the past.

“We’re excited to release this research and share the challenges and opportunities it presents. We hope it will start a broader conversation about the importance of reading, and especially reading longer text,” says Jo.

Reading in the Digital Age was delivered for Read NZ Te Pou Muramura by Research First Ltd. A copy of the full report can be downloaded here.

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