How iPad Worsened Illiteracy in the USA


Five ways iPad worsened illiteracy in the United States

The iPad technology has made life easier, but it has also contributed to the already deteriorating illiteracy in the country. Coupled with decreased interest in reading and poor comprehension, the American school system encourages illiteracy.

iPad side effects in reading and comprehension

  • Stole the joy of reading.
  • Discouraged critical thinking.
  • Worsened illiteracy
  • Shorter attention span.
  • Rewired the brain.
  • Poor penmanship.
  • Contributed to an epidemic of laziness.

1. iPad stole the joy of reading

Reading for fun is no longer pleasurable

Reading for fun has become less pleasurable, according to a Pew survey. It was at its lowest point in 2019 since the question was first asked in 1984.

The percentage of public school students who said they read 30 minutes or more daily, besides homework, declined from 2017 to 2019, even before the pandemic. [NAEP 2009] 

Writing or doing quick annotations in a physical book helps us better understand what we’re reading. You can do this on an iPad or tablet, but it’s not tactile, which makes the experience less effective.

AI technology: A threat to education?

In 2020, was founded, and by 2023, dozens of AI companies sprung up where you can create an essay out of thin air. With a few keywords, AI can do better homework.

Using iPads in school has radically changed the reading and writing research culture. But with the ChatGPT introduced just recently in 2022—there’s no stopping AI from encouraging lazy students.

The point is, why read more when AI can do it for you?

Advantages of reading from a printed material

According to Naomi S. Baron, Professor Emerita, American University, more than 400 university students from five countries preferred text in print.

Underlining, highlighting, annotating, or going back and forth in printed reading materials is easier. Hence, students can pick the most relevant information for learning and writing applications.

  • 86% preferred reading longer texts in print.
  • 92% said it was easiest to concentrate when reading print.
  • Random studies point to several scientific advantages of reading printed books. For example, a physical book helps children become better readers and amplifies the joy of reading.
  • Students who have books at home are more likely to score higher on tests, according to a study of readers from 42 countries. [Oxford Academic]

Bibliosmia: The immersive experience of a physical book

The iPad replaced the tactility of a physical book. Without bibliosmia (the smell of paper) and the feeling of holding a book, the sensory experience is less immersive.

Bibliosmia whets our appetite to read and think. The scientific reason is that the vanilla-ish scent from wood-based paper contains lignin, which is closely related to vanillin. [Chen]

2. Reading online discourages critical thinking

With iPads, students became more flexible as they no longer needed to carry books around. It came with free apps like iLitt, Sora, DeltaMath,, and Schoology, which easily centralized the curriculum.

More importantly, students can study or research from anywhere, allowing extra time for other activities. Still, it did little to improve literacy. ACT/SAT scores continue to decline.

But the most devastating effect of technology such as iPads is it discourages critical thinking, study shows.

Adverse effects of online reading

Current research suggests that reading online, such as on the iPad, results in lower understanding and less critical reflection. [Allcot, 2021]

About 85% of students were more likely to multitask in an online environment, and only 26% when reading print. [Baron, 2013-2015]

3. Replacing print with iPad worsened illiteracy

It is counterproductive to do homework, research, or study work on an iPad than on paper. However, taking notes or quick research is beneficial using a laptop, which would have been better than an iPad.

iPad is producing poor readers

Screen‐based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing, keyword spotting, and reading more selectively—while less time on in‐depth concentrated reading. [Ziming Liu]

In an article by Naomi Baron in 2017, ‘Reading in a Digital Age,’ she noted that when students have a choice, they spend less time on digital reading and have lower comprehension scores. [Ackerman, Goldsmith, 2011]

The perfect storm for illiteracy

When smartphones and iPads became popular in the 2010s, the observable fact is that they distracted many kids. Instead of exploring and reading to feed an imaginary world, the iPad was their universe.

Soon, free iPads were rolled out in high school. With data on demand, why put effort into deducing thought and meaning in book reading assignments?

After all, there’s a ton of summarized content and analysis on the web.

Hence, first-year students in high school are groomed to be lazy readers. Coupled with digital distractions and leniency, it’s the perfect storm for producing illiterate young Americans.

4. Cause for shorter attention span

iPads are associated with attention deficit

Several factors influence attention span. Still, just like any gadget, a study shows that the iPad is associated with a shorter attention span involving exposure to exogenous stimuli. [Espiritu, 2016]

Statistical Association of iPad and Attention Deficit

  • Regular smartphone and iPad use increases the risk of children developing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
  • Teenagers who frequently use the gadgets were found to be twice as likely to develop ADHD symptoms (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
  • The link was persistent among almost 2,600 US teenagers tracked for two years.

* Leventhal, 2016

Although more teachers can discipline their students to keep smartphones away, students can easily be distracted because the iPad can be used for personal stuff, games, or discreetly chatting in class.

Even if teachers have access to see what students are doing with their iPads, going through that would distract the teachers themselves from what is more essential in the class.

5. Poor penmanship

Lack of writing discipline

Elementary schools in America have abandoned structured phonics and scriptwriting. Even the way a child holds the pencil has been ignored. Apparently, these do not make a difference in a child’s ability to read and write.

But that is not what we see today.

Nearly half of Americans struggle to read their handwriting, survey finds. The company Bic found that about 45% of people struggle to figure out their scribblings. [Study Finds]

After the pandemic, many high school students who get a driver’s license do not know how to write their signatures.

Experts blame gadgets for poor penmanship

Scriptwriting and typing used to be taught in elementary and high school, which is why the older generation writes better and types faster than most Millenials.

An incorrect pencil grip can lead to learning difficulties, pain, and poor motor skills. The ideal” tripod grip” is the best hand position for handwriting speed and muscle ease. [Theraphy Solution]

Today, millions of high school students do not know how to hold a pencil or write legibly correctly, and “experts” blame gadgets. [Guardian]

Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly unable to hold it because they don’t have fundamental movement skills,” said Sally Payne, head of the pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England Foundation.

The proper way to write is learned during early education. Perhaps it’s the teachers who we should blame.

Poor penmanship among high school students

A high school student who wasn’t trained to use the pencil properly during elementary years will likely never learn to do so.

In middle school, kids used Chromebooks to type in notes, but in high school, the norm is for students to use their index finger to write on the iPad.

The remedy is for them to write in journals, which many teachers have adopted. However, it may be too late.

“The Shallows” in 2011

Nicholas Carr wrote the book Shallows in 2011. He’s foreseen the negative impact of tablet technology on young individuals.

He said, “Brain scans have also revealed that people whose written language uses logographic symbols, like the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is considerably different from the circuitry found in people whose written language employs a phonetic alphabet.” 

In other words, people used to phonetic alphabets may struggle to understand online content because their brains will have to readjust to a different reading circuitry.

Even if one’s brain circuit has adjusted, the internet “scatters attention,” making us jump from one topic of interest to another, he noted.

What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

  1. Reduced Concentration: Online reading can lead to shorter attention spans and difficulty concentrating on lengthy or complex content.
  2. Distractions: Hyperlinks, ads, and multimedia elements can disrupt the reading experience and divert focus from the main content.
  3. Ebooks are more distracting given that they are read in a “distracting medium,” such as an iPad, to begin with.
  4. Superficial Comprehension: Online readers may have a tendency to skim and scan, resulting in a superficial understanding of the material.
  5. Shallow Thinking: The constant access to information online can discourage deep thinking and reflection, promoting a more superficial mode of processing information.
  6. Impaired Memory: Carr discusses how the internet’s accessibility to vast amounts of information can reduce our reliance on memory, as we can quickly look up facts rather than committing them to memory.

The bottom line is that we should embrace technology, but younger people cannot be exposed to it because it prevents them from developing patience, perseverance, and diligence. The result is a generation of lazy students who are quickly bored.


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