Research Paper

Impact of Social Media on Reading

Ruihan Zhang






All of a sudden, social media has taken over the cyber world. It has become popular and widespread since the time it was invented. Social media has three main types, which are text-based, picture-based and video-based. As people may notice already that picture-based social medias are becoming dominant among all types, and in the meanwhile, nearly all social medias set word limits of posts for no longer than 140 characters. The trend for social media is changing all the time and this time is about getting rid of the word contents. Those, which only contain texts, are not popular anymore. Just recently, Yik Yak, the trendy anonymous social media on plenty of college campuses in America that spreads out current news started allowing people to post their pictures on. Out of all social medias we have got so far, most people consider Facebook as the first one that ever been widely known and used. It is only been a few years since Facebook was founded and now so many diverse social medias exist and they are around for different groups of people and are meeting different requirements that people with distinct backgrounds may expect. Since social media is still in its early age, users are more likely to be the youth, especially college students. So my objects of research are current under graduate students in the nation. Considering the fact that social medias are turning wordless, college students read less but visualize more. Thus, college students are losing their reading skills gradually by the harmful influences of social medias.



Nowadays with the unhealthy influences of social media, college students are losing the ability to read and absorb long articles or do deep reading. Journalist Nicholas Carr feels the same way and he describes his feelings in the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” as follow:

My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

It is shockingly to see that professional writers are suffering from the same issue. Everything Carr describes in his work showing how uncomfortable he feels about reading lengthy articles nowadays totally applies to college students. The more you are connected to the web, the less reading you can possibly do.

Furthermore, in Alison Black’s article “Generation Y: Who they are and how they learn”, she focuses on the same issue but only with young students. Black defines the current generation as generation Y, which including college students. She mentioned that: “Gen Y is being shaped by digital technology, transforming the human brain and the way we think.” Black basically approved Carr’s view that digital technology as the Internet and its derivations are shaping our brains and controlling our minds.

My hypothesis is that college students are spending a decreasing amount of time on reading thereby losing their reading skills gradually due to social medias changing the way they read and setting a limit to their reading quantities.




To test my hypothesis, I conducted primary research for the issue I’m working on. I came up with a survey through Google Forms that consists of ten interesting questions and I spread it out to other students to answer. In order to obtain a supportive data, I selected students from several different colleges in the nation with different majors. I also did self-analysis. Because social media has been a huge part of my life since I was in middle school, I definitely have some evidences in myself. In the survey, I asked for background information at the beginning, including school, academic year and majors because I believe that these kinds of information, especially their majors, would have huge impacts on their reading habits.


Survey Results

My data shows more than half of the participants are sophomore, one fourth of them are junior, 12.5% of them are freshmen and the rest are seniors. Participants are from eleven universities in the nation vary with seventeen different majors. Some of the participants are majoring in science and engineering field. Their majors vary from computer science, statistics, industrial engineering, electrical engineering, pharmaceutical chemistry, food science, agriculture, environmental science and biology. Others are majoring in social science field and their majors include international relations, law, societies and justice, economics and communication. Last but not the least, there was one of them majoring in arts and humanities field and he studies music performance. That is the summary of all the background information I have from the responses.

The first actual question asks whether or not they use social media and how much time they spend on it per week. The results show the distribution clearly in the pie chart (Figure. 1) that all participants report using social media and over half of them use it for ten hours per week and the rest spend a more reasonable amount of time on social medias every week. This shows that college students with diverse majors and class standings use social media everyday and they spend quite a few hours on it each week.

Time spend on social medias per week

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 01.31.43


The second question asks which type of social media they prefer to use, either text based like Twitter or picture and video based like Instagram and Vine. From the results half of the participants chose picture and video based social media and 30% of them have no preferences among these two and the rest chose text based (Figure. 2). So far it seems more students prefer social media that contains more pictures and videos than texts.

Preferences of social medias

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 01.31.57

Figure. 2

Continue to the third question I listed a few common social media and let them to choose which ones they use on a daily basis. According to Figure. 3, a huge amount of participants reported usage of picture based social medias on a daily basis. Some of them wrote “Youtube” under “Others” option. It’s obvious to see that a lot more people use picture and video based social media rather than text based even though some of them said they don’t have a preference in the previous survey question. However, text based-only social medias nowadays are unpopular and hard to find is another thing to take into account.

Social medias usage on a daily basis

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 01.32.10

Figure. 3

In the following question, I selected two jokes for them to choose which one is more appealing for them to read. One joke is short, and another is long (Appendix A). Unsurprisingly most people chose the short one to read, while others chose the long one. Straight after the story question, I posted this question asking whether they actually finished the story in the previous question and it is interesting to see people acting honestly. Three-quarter of them said “no”.

For the same token, a lot more people chose the short version of the academic article about agriculture and wetlands instead of the long one (Appendix B). When I checked the individual responses, I found that the only participants who chose the long article for this question were students with agriculture related majors and those who enjoy reading in general.

In the next question, I left both a short paragraph and a link to pictures describing the pain of quarter-system students (Appendix C). I wanted to test if they were more likely to look at the pictures than read the paragraph. Slightly more people chose the link.

In the following question, nearly 90% participants responses that they usually have hard time reading long articles. Only few put they have no problem doing that and those are international relations and pre law majored students who have reading assignments nearly everyday.

In the question asking if they feel like reading less after social media became popular around us. Most people said yes and I’m putting one of the answers from the survey (Zhang. 2016) as follow:

Yes. It’s very hard to focus on long readings these days, because social medias that are video and picture oriented grasp my attention more and there’s so many out there that it’s hard to focus on long readings. Also with so many links, on social medias, it’s hard to stay focus and actually finish one page before starting to read another one.


Self Analysis

I used to read a lot. I still remember those days back in the time that I asked my mother to take me to the bookstores every Saturday afternoon and sometimes begged her to buy me more books. Those were the days when I had no idea what social media was. I seldom used computers at that time. I could easily spend the whole day reading books. My elementary school holds reading competitions and I was the winner every year. However, after social media came out, I spend an increasing amount of time online. I enjoy checking other people’s status and gradually I lost the ability to read or do deep reading. I found myself having a hard time reading every word from my chemistry lab manual. I don’t read, and I only skim over the instructions so sometimes I miss the vital part. However, I tend to pay more attention to the presentations made by my teaching assistant since those usually contain pictures and I find that easier to grasp than the texts.


Conclusions and Error Analysis

Apparently social media has a harmful influence on college students’ reading skills by encouraging them read less or even not read at all. From both the survey and the self-analysis, it is obvious to tell that college students are suffering reading problems caused by social media.

In the survey, I insert a link to one option but the other one is a short paragraph. In the link there are pictures. I wanted to see if participants like to read the short paragraph or the pictures of the same topic. However surprisingly most people chose the short paragraph. I asked a few of responders later and they told me that it was because the link did not offer direct information as the short paragraph and they were too lazy to click and open the link. So this happened because I did not offer equivalent types of information.







Black, A. (2010). Gen Y: Who they are and how they learn. Educational Horizons88(2), 92-   101.

Carr, N. (2008 July/August). Is Google making us stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains. The Atlantic, 302(1), 56-63.

Zhang, R. (2016). Self analysis

Zhang, R. (2016). Survey on Social Media and Reading








Appendix A

Short story:

One day before breakfast, an orangerolled off the counter escaped its fate,bouncing happily through the kitchendoor. Filled with hope, the eggfollowed.


Long story:

Three men, a philosopher, a mathematician and an idiot, were out riding in the car when it crashed into a tree. Before anyone knows it, the three men found themselves standing before the pearly gates of Heaven, where St. Peter and the Devil were standing nearby. “Gentlemen,” the Devil started, “Due to the fact that Heaven is now overcrowded, St. Peter has agreed to limit the number of people entering Heaven. If anyone of you can ask me a question which I don’t know or cannot answer, then you’re worthy enough to go to Heaven; if not, then you’ll come with me to Hell.” The philosopher then stepped up, “OK, give me the most comprehensive report on Socrates’ teachings.” With a snap of his finger, a stack of paper appeared next to the Devil. The philosopher read it and concluded it was correct. “Then, go to Hell!” With another snap of his finger, the philosopher disappeared. The mathematician then asked, “Give me the most complicated formula ever theorized!” With a snap of his finger, another stack of paper appeared next to the Devil. The mathematician read it and reluctantly agreed it was correct. “Then, go to Hell!” With another snap of his finger, the mathematician disappeared too. The idiot then stepped forward and said, “Bring me a chair!” The Devil brought forward a chair. “Drill 7 holes on the seat.” The Devil did just that. The idiot then sat on the chair and let out a very loud fart. Standing up, he asked, “Which hole did my fart come out from?” The Devil inspected the seat and said,”The third hole from the right.” “Wrong,” said the idiot, “it’s from my asshole.” And the idiot went to heaven.




Appendix B

Short academic paragraph:

Some agricultural practices increase levels of nutrients causing plankton growth. This has bad effect on the health of wetlands and water quality. The most important impacts are through the drainage or conversion of wetlands to cultivated land and the disturbance of ecosystem functions due to heavy machinery use or livestock presence in agriculture.

Zhang. R. (2016). Wetlands and Agriculture

Long academic paragraph:

The demand for water to support irrigated agriculture has led to the demise of wetlands and their associated wildlife for decades. This thirst for water is so pervasive that many wetlands considered to be hemispheric reserves for waterbirds have been heavily affected; for example, the California and Nevada wetlands in North America, the Macquarie Marshes in Australia, and the Aral Sea in central Asia. These and other major wetlands have lost most of their historic supplies of water and some have also experienced serious impacts from contaminated subsurface irrigation drainage. Now mere shadows of what they once were in terms of biodiversity and wildlife production, many of the so-called “wetlands of international importance” are no longer the key conservation strongholds they were in the past. The conflict between irrigated agriculture and wildlife conservation has reached a critical point on a global scale. Not only has local wildlife suffered, including the extinction of highly insular species, but a ripple effect has impacted migratory birds worldwide. Human societies reliant on wetlands for their livelihoods are also bearing the cost. Ironically, most of the degradation of these key wetlands occurred during a period of time when public environmental awareness and scientific assertion of the need for wildlife conservation was at an all-time high. However, designation of certain wetlands as “reserves for wildlife” by international review boards has not slowed their continued degradation. To reverse this trend, land and water managers and policy makers must assess the true economic costs of wetland loss and, depending on the outcome of the assessment, use the information as a basis for establishing legally enforceable water rights that protect wetlands from agricultural development.

Lemly, A. D. (2004). Aquatic selenium pollution is a global environmental safety issue. Ecotoxicology and environmental safety, 59(1), 44-56.



Appendix C


Students were highly motivated at the start of the quarter and then experienced workload stress in correlation with the quarter-system speed. the students about to register for the next quarter’s classes were showing signs of “anxiousness.” Academic holds (temporary suspensions to student accounts for various academic or financial reasons) were the main cause of stress. Students complain about the lack of coordination between professors and their project due dates.

Pohopien, L. (2012). Student stress in a quarter system-an Ernest Stringer method action research report. Research in Higher Education Journal, 15, 1.