By: Anna Kogan, Support Specialist

It’s been 10 years since I graduated high school, and I wonder what my academic life would have looked like had I come of age with a smartphone in hand.

Having attended a notoriously competitive high school, the bar was set high. Our plates were overflowing with homework from our many AP classes, as well as after-school extracurriculars . We were warned not to burn ourselves out, but achieving the perfect balance between academia, spending time with friends and family, and sleeping proved ever elusive. The pressure was crippling for some, but I often question if it had to be that way.

One of the contributing factors to my high school anxieties came in the form of English class, specifically, English class reading assignments. I’m not proud to admit that I faked my way through many reading assignments, because I was a relatively slow reader at the time. This struggle to finish my English reading assignments resulted in my harsh prioritization of my other classes over chapters of many a Great American Novel. Would I rather spend the few hours I have after class to do my homework for all my other classes, or wade my way through English to the detriment of all my other classes?

Despite enjoying how diving deep into a book during summer vacation broadened my perspective and took me on adventures to fantastical lands, I made the practical (and ruthless) choice to never read another book for English class for the rest of high school.

While you, dear reader, are surely thinking I must have flunked out of any English class I took with my newfound, calculating strategy, you would be quite wrong. Since I hovered between As and Bs, the adults in my life were none the wiser. I gleaned most of what I needed to maintain my grades from class discussions and the occasional dabble in *gasp* Wikipedia. I managed to get away with my self-sabotage academically unscathed.

Now at the ripe old age of 28, I’m thoroughly aware that there’s nothing shameful about being a slow reader or an auditory learner. After purchasing my first smartphone in my college years, I discovered the subtle, powerful joys of audiobooks.

Realizing I could listen to audiobooks much faster than I could read them, I took full advantage of this new-found technology to get in as much listening as I could. I no longer had to sacrifice Fitzgerald, Lee or Hemingway and could listen on my commute to college, at the gym or while washing the dishes! I went from reading a few books a year to listening to a few books a week. I rediscovered reading for pleasure. I found listening to authors reading their works delightful; singing soulful tunes, pronouncing words in Xhosa, comedians doing spot-on impressions which I would have missed out on had I been reading print instead of listening.

On top of all that, I was getting assignments done, and faster than I’d ever thought possible. I didn’t have to re-read paragraphs, as I found narration much easier to pay attention to. I trained myself to eventually become a faster reader by reading along to an audiobook at double speed, as we frequently received a paper copy for class. Following along with my eyes and ears made difficult texts much easier to follow and comprehend on a deeper level. Listening to audiobooks filled me with joy and gratitude that such a thing exists, only sullied by a twinge of regret that I hadn’t had audiobooks in my life sooner.

While many a self-help guru maligns ruminating on all that could have been in the past, I can’t help but wonder how my schooling and teen years could have gone more smoothly if I had audiobooks at my fingertips during long bus rides and while doing chores. Would I have participated more in class? Would I have been more confident thinking critically and defending my ideas? How much richer would my internal world have been? It is impossible to say now, but it’s not too late for a generation of youths who could be facing the same dilemma I did a decade ago.

We adults have a choice. We can either gripe about the ubiquity of smartphones or show children how to responsibly use the resources available to them to their benefit. I say we give them every possible advantage to help them succeed and develop their mind, so no child ever has to choose between English and their other classes again as I did a decade ago.