[I]t is surprising that twenty-three per cent of respondents said that they had spent more time reading this year than usual, and thirty per cent said that they had spent less. Researchers usually expect people to exaggerate the amount of reading they do, since reading is considered a prestigious activity. If a larger proportion of people say they’re reading less, it might mean that more people really are reading less—so many more that white lies aren’t able to disguise the shift in behavior. Or it could mean that it’s becoming more acceptable to say that you’re reading less. Either possibility is dispiriting.
I'm always reluctant to draw large conclusions from my small experiences as a college instructor, but this suggests something that occurred to me a couple of semesters ago. Most students don't read much (I used to ask, but gave it up when I learned that I could tell just as accurately by seeing how they write) but that used to be an admission that was made apologetically, as though they knew they ought to read more and meant to get to it someday. More and more, I encounter students who not only don't read but don't even seem to consider the possibility. The idea that reading was a healthy activity used to be a given. That now seems less true.