Young people read a lot. Wattpad is the evidence.
This is the result of a research of the University of Milan-Bicocca analyzing the platform for digital reading most used by teenagers.
In the digital era young people do not read anymore. This is the complaint often repeated in cultural debates and in the news. But is it really true? A research lead by Federico Pianzola, researcher in Contemporary Italian Literature in the Department of Human Sciences for Education, titled “Wattpad as a resource for literary studies. Quantitative and qualitative examples of the importance of digital social reading and readers’ comments in the margins”, presents a different situation.
The research analyzes the use of Wattpad, an online community of readers, among whom 90% are Generation Z or Millennials, that is younger than 35 years old, mainly women between 13 and 24 years old.
Dr. Pianzola, what did you investigate in your research and which conclusions can be drawn from it?
In opposition to the often heard complaint that youth do not read, in this article we show in detail how teenagers all over the world write, read, and comment texts with a so far undocumented intensity. We analyzed how narratives spread on the digital social reading platform Wattpad, an app that became one of the richest databases of stories: it contains novels, fanfiction, classics, and poetry. Using quantitative and qualitative methods, tools typical of Digital Humanities integrated with traditional close reading, we analyzed 30 million titles in 13 different languages, and for a selection of English works also the texts and comments to them. We list readers’ preferred topics, how literary genre affects reading, and how emotional engagement varies in response to classics and teen fiction novels.
In your opinion, how do teenagers approach reading?
We often witness a scaremongering attitude about youth and reading, but if we look at national surveys, we can see that the number of readers is almost stable since the ‘90s (source: Italian Publishers Association). We should rather be shocked that Italian adults (35-54 years old) have the lowest literacy rate in Europe and people over 50 years old are those reading the least. I think teenagers like to read stories with cultural elements which are close to them, and through a technology that is almost a prosthesis for them, the mobile phone. Wattpad gives them such an opportunity.
What is it that sparks their interest?
The kind of research we did does not give us a sure answer to this question, but researchers who are working on similar topics (DHLab at the University of Basel) claim that one of the crucial factors is the possibility to find an intimate space for reading. Such a place and communities are safe from the intervention of adults, who mostly ignore the existence of Wattpad or similar platforms.
What advantages can have this kind of “intimate reading space”?
There is evidence that reading on screen (computer, e-reader, mobile phone) hinders text comprehension. Examples like Wattpad show that we do not have to blame technology in itself because with the right content and motivation reading socially on mobile phones can be an excellent way to nurture a passion for reading. The secret lies in having a safe space where to find stories that resonate with the lives teenagers live every day: reaction to bullies, sarcasm, and known cultural references are among the most appreciated features. Moreover, a positive effect on reading skills comes from the fact that reading teen fiction and discussing it with others, teenagers can also learn to read classics focusing not only on emotional response but also on a contextualized interpretation of the text.