The decline in serious reading continues thanks to profiteering

hooked app

The Atlantic points out what we’ve known for a long time: Many students graduate unable to write coherent sentences or make a logical argument using writing. After all, why write when you can just text or Snap?

“In “The Writing Revolution,” Peg Tyre traces the problems at one troubled New York high school to a simple fact: The students couldn’t write coherent sentences. In 2009 New Dorp High made a radical change. Instead of trying to engage students through memoir exercises and creative assignments, the school required them to write expository essays and learn the fundamentals of grammar. Within two years, the school’s pass rates for the English Regents test and the global-history exam were soaring. The school’s drop-out rate — 40 percent in 2006 — has fallen to 20 percent.

The experiment suggests that the trend toward teaching creative writing was hurting American students. In a debate about Tyre’s story, we asked a range of experts, from policymakers to Freedom Writers founder Erin Gruwell, to share their thoughts on Tyre’s story.

So we can all safely agree that a lot of children are simply not writing well enough to function in the workplace. We don’t mean write fiction novels; we mean do enough to hold a good-paying job.

So we would assume the solution is for businesspeople to take a chance on returning us to learning the basics, right?

Nope.

New app offers ‘books for the Snapchat generation’

“Umm…why do u have Claires phone?”

“Well if u must know i sat down on this park bench to read”

“And sat right on someone’s phone. Claire’s I’m guessing”

“What r u reading?”

That’s an excerpt from a book meant to be read on an iPhone or Apple Watch. It’s available on an app that launched this week called Hooked.

Prerna Gupta describes her app as “books for the Snapchat generation.”

Hooked will feature short fiction for young-adult readers. Gupta said that 80% of young-adult novels are read digitally. So the teen-set seemed like the most natural audience.

Each book will be roughly 1,000 words and is designed to be read in about five minutes. The stories will be told entirely through dialogue and read like texts. Messages show up on screen when readers click “Next.”

“Epistolary literature is nothing new,” she said. “Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ is one of my favorite books and the story is told entirely through letters.”

Gupta, who envisions the app as being like “Twitter for fiction,” turned to some of the top MFA programs to recruit alumni writers.

“We listed that we had paid creative writing opportunities and the response was overwhelming,” Gupta said.

While she wouldn’t disclose actual figures, Gupta said pay varied by story but was very “competitive.”

Initially, the app will only feature content from screened contributors. However, eventually users will be able to submit content of their own.

The app is free to download and features one free story a day. Readers can unlock more stories with the subscription service. A week of unlimited stories costs $2.99. A month is $7.99 and a year is $39.99.

There are currently over 200 stories and Gupta said they add more every day.

Stories are broken into categories such as “Dark & Stormy,” “Primal Terror,” and “Love as Deep.” There’s even a section called “Telepathic” that is “hand-picked” by Hooked editors to “blow ur mind.”

If you were able to stop pounding your computer in anger at the sleaziness of this app, then you should take note: sorry, improving literacy is NOT THE GOAL of these business ventures. Pandering to people’s already-short attention spans is not going to make kids smarter. I don’t think too many of us think the problem is that we have TOO MUCH serious thinking in this world.

There is no such thing as a 1,000 word “book.” Even flash fiction, the shortest form of long-form fiction there is, is 1,200 word limit. It’s okay to promote short stories, but you not get any meaningful text if you write a cell phone-style story.

Think about the last time you read a deep, profound fiction story in less than 1,000 words. The kind of story which makes you think. Yeah, I can’t either. If you want to Tweet a flash fiction piece, go right ahead. There’s nothing wrong with it. But these people ought not to act as though they are contributing to improved literacy.

What this appears to be is rich people preying on poor, aspiring writers by promising them what the internet generally will not do for them-pay them for their work. Toss up work you can write in 5 minutes, and you will get paid for it. Who among you wouldn’t take that offer? Unfortunately, you will end up so desperate to make any money you will do what you have to do to get attention, even if that means writing nonsense for the occasional money, distracting you from focusing on more serious efforts. What, you thought you’d rake in six figures writing flash fiction?

This is how Silk Road merchants made so much money: whoever controls the distribution controls everything. How else do you think social media companies make so much money without providing any content? Because they are great at getting you to give away your content for free, because they convince your customers that anything you write or post has no value at all. If you don’t agree to give away everything for free, customers will just go with whoever will. Essentially, you have no choice, whether you want to or not.*

*disclosure. Many people’s thoughts really ARE worth nothing. Ouch.

They then go to people uninterested in reading and, rather than promote a way to encourage learning, they seek to make a profit off exploiting people. This is no different than the trashy Reality TV and “pop music” industry where profanity and shallowness are celebrated and encouraged. The people running the shows and those who act in them get rich, but they leave behind a lot of impressionable young people who are less able to think deeply or do anything but curse or act dumb to be “cool”.

I know those who run these types of industries will make the usual claim that “hey, at least people are reading.” But in all honesty, encouraging shallow reading of other people’s texts is not an improvement. If anything, it teaches people to have “twitter thoughts”: anything which can’t be explained in 140 characters isn’t worth understanding. This attitude already has ruined political debates. This is not a case of a problem that need solving. This is a case of a married couple seeing $$$ and figuring out how to exploit that.

Most likely this app will fail within 2 years, though the market will decide that. I just can’t see too many people shelling out $40 a year for a blast of shallow short stories when you can already read flash fiction on the web for free (or at least for less). What we need is for business to create new ways to improve learning and literacy, so people will not just read, but understand what they read so they will become thinkers. I have seen far too many business people exploit this gap by pandering to the lowest-common denominator in our media. Pardon the language, but we need to call out these BS artists who are not helping us with the problem.

Image from CNN Money.

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