Reading protects teens from severe depression, new study shows.
The novelist and nonfiction writer Les Standiford, speaking at Nova Southeastern University a couple of weeks ago, made the declaration that literature will survive because “people need stories.” Indeed they do, but with all respect to my old friend, in the future they won’t get their stories from books.
In the latest and one of the most depressing steps toward a post-literate society, Time-Warner Cable earlier this month rolled out a new app that streams television directly to the iPad. A controversy immediately flamed up as channel owners protested that Time-Warner doesn’t own the rights to stream their programming.
But these details will get ironed out. So will the location restriction. Right now, you can only access Time-Warner Cable on your iPad when you are at home. You have to subscribe to both cable and Internet service from Time-Warner, but the point, says company president Rob Marcus, is that the new app “allows you to turn any room into a TV room” using your iPad.
Imagine taking the iPad for a soak in the tube while you catch up with your favorite reality show. Or, as Brian Stelter says in The New York times, “Imagine a son watching ‘SpongeBob’ on an iPad while his father watches basketball on the big-screen TV.”
Now imagine this: A time, right around the corner, when cable companies and other providers can stream TV programming directly to your iPad anywhere you are: At the beach, on the train, in the airport lounge.
How many people will turn to books for their story fix then?
My guess: Almost none. Reading requires a bit of effort and concentration before it yields its pleasures. Television is more like a bowl of M&Ms: Instant, effortless chocolaty goodness.
This all puts me in mind of a lumbering, shaggy fellow who used to work at the Sun-Sentinel as a copy editor back in the ’90s. He shared his love of history and science with me outside in the smoking area. He was especially taken, I’ll always remember, by William Manchester’s history of the Dark Ages, A World Lit by Fire.
Always charmed by people who like to read, after that I gave this man cast-off review copies I thought he might like, and he accepted them with avidity and gratitude. That is, until one day when I ran into him on the way out of the building and asked if he needed something to read.
No, he replied, he had just upgraded his cable, and now he got six or eight history and science channels. He didn’t need to read anymore. He got his history fix from his TV.
I’ve been singing this sad dirge about a future without books since I started writing this blog. Many intelligent friends have kindly taken the time to disagree with me–most of them resting their argument on the same solid truth Les did: People need stories.
Alas, I hope they are right and the horse-and-buggy of books survive the heavy traffic of information highway. But I fear my friends, romanticizing books and reading, lack clarity of vision.
Instead, I suspect, video and digital technology will drive us first into a post-literate world, where no one will need to read.
Then as digital technology is miniaturized and hand-held devices evolve into implants, we will enter the post-human era. Our grandchildren will be cyborgs, as much robots as people. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of the world as I want to know it.
In the meantime, though, the ubiquity of video has more immediate if no less pernicious effects — at least to the extent it discourages children from reading.
For example, a new study by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine indicates that reading protects teens from depression.
Teens participating in the study who preferred to listen to music were more likey to have “a major depressive order.” Those who chose to spend their time reading were “far less likely to have such a diagnosis.”
How much less likely? Those adolescents who spent the most time listening to music were 8.5 times more likely to be depressed than those who spent the least time listening to music. By contrast, those who read the most were one-tenth as likely to be depressed as those who read the least.
I have no wise-ass theory on this one. As a teen back in the dawn of time, I read a lot, listened to a lot of music, and I was melancholy most of the time. No, wait: All of the time. However, I can clear up one question the study left researchers with:
Do depressed people listen to more music to escape, or does listening to a lot of music lead to depression, or both?
The answer: Neither. In my experience, I consciously chose to listen to music that sharpened my adolescent feelings of melancholy, loneliness and alienation. There was a distinct, perverse pleasure in having my depressive feelings verified and enhanced. Emotionally it was like picking a scab.
In any case, as the head of the study explained, the surprising results go beyond the limits of science or medicine.
“It also is important that reading was associated with less likelihood of depression,” said Dr. Brian Primack, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics. “This is worth emphasizing because overall in the US., reading books is decreasing, while nearly all other forms of media use are increasing.”