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Misreading Millennials

7:23 AM, Jun 28, 2013 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
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As a “millennial” (i.e. one born between 1980 and 2000), I’ve grown used to reading descriptions of myself – written, always, by those much older than I – that I don’t recognize. It’s a bit like hearing my voice on tape – can that really be me? So take, for example, the trendy idea that people my age all want to be educated online – as if those in my cohort would rather spend their late teens and early twenties living in their parents’ basement, glued to a computer screen, rather than interacting with professors and fellow students far away from mom and dad. (Let alone attending toga parties.) 

Books upon books


Or take this breathless article in Time, which introduces us to what it’s calling the “library of the future.” It seems that North Carolina State University has just opened a ballyhooed $100 million new library, which heavily deemphasizes books and reading. The great majority of the books the library owns are no longer on the shelves—they're hidden in the bowels of the library, and can be retrieved only by a mechanized "bookBot." So much for browsing. (A forthcoming library in San Antonio, Texas, meanwhile, will contain no physical books at all, and will only lend e-copies of books.) The N.C. State library supposedly looks like a "sleek Apple showroom" (and that's supposedly a good thing), and contains "media rooms, video game collections and even a 3-D printing lab." The new library seems predicated on the notion that we millennials can’t bear the thought of opening something as fuddy-duddy as a book and reading in silence. 

Meanwhile, the American Conservative points out that the Pew Internet & American Life Foundation actually bothered to ask “millennials” about their reading habits.  And guess what? It turns out that “three-quarters (75%) of younger Americans say they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 64% of adults ages 30 and older.” That’s right: people my age are more likely to read physical books than those who are older than us. What’s more, “60% of younger patrons say they go to the library to study, sit and read, or watch or listen to media, significantly more than the 45% of older patrons who do this.” The N.C. State administrators behind the new library are reminiscent of those "cool moms" who listen to rap music to impress their kids with how "with it" they are – yet end up doing it all wrong. (Say, grooving to Will Smith instead of Kanye West.) Maybe instead of plowing $100 million into a hip new pseudo-library, the N.C. State administrators could have commissioned a much cheaper survey of their students instead. The results might have surprised them.

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