Friday, August 15, 2008

A different kind of literacy?

This has nothing to do with China. I will blog about China again soon, but I want to sort of pose this question to you all. Your thoughts are appreciated because I'm genuinely curious what your take on this is.

There was an article in the NY Times recently titled Online, R U Really Reading? that sort of outlines the debate of whether or not reading online is really reading. The article itself is nothing groundbreaking, but the topic in general and a lot of the comments were sort of interesting. The gist of the article is that children are growing up reading articles online, blogs, facebook, texts, and stories written on sites like and rather than actually reading books. Some parents and teachers think that it's great that at least the students are reading and writing... but then there's the counterargument that what they're doing is not really reading or writing.

There was also an article a while back in the Atlantic with the title Is Google Making Us Stupid? Both of these articles argue that we read very differently online than we do when we are reading a book, and that this may be affecting our ability to read. In the Atlantic article, the author says that he has a harder time sitting down and enjoying a long book now as a result of spending so much time browsing online. It is true that the internet can be very distracting, and is not exactly helpful for people with a short attention span. I find myself often skimming articles instead of fully reading them, and bouncing about a lot from page to page. It's rare that I will spend an hour reading something online without flipping to facebook or a blog or clicking on one of the links in whatever it is that I am reading (generally there is an abundance of links either within the body of the text that I am reading, or surrounding it).

While it may be true that we are living in a digital era, and our ability to effectively sift through a massive amount of information online is much more valuable in the professional world than the ability to sit and absorb a 1,000 page book, I still can't help but agree that these children who don't know the joy of picking up an actual book are missing out on something great. Obviously, it would be even better if they were reading authors actually worth reading, but frankly, I would rather see people reading Danielle Steel and the ilk than getting their only exposure to the written word via a site like quizilla. I've spent some time on this site and fanfiction to see what it is the kids are talking about. I wanted to actually do some research before rushing to a conclusion... but I can't say I really like what I found.

Truth be told, some of the stories have amazing potential... especially considering the age of some of the authors. However, they are desperately in need of proofreading and editing. There are so many spelling and grammatical errors in those stories that it's a bit shameful that these kids are in their last couple of years of high school. I don't even mean typos... I mean blatant errors. Using seen, as in "I seen it" and starring instead of staring... every other line. Some of the writers seem to not realize that you're is in no way the same as your and that there are in fact, three different there's (there, their, they're). I'm exceptionally critical of bad spelling and grammar... and I know that I fuck it up often, and I always hang my head a little when I look back and realize my mistake. My blog is not exactly a shining example of how to write... what with the ellipses that don't fit in and the incomplete sentences and awkward sentence structures. I know that I'm not the greatest writer, nor do I pretend to be. I don't proof my stuff until after it's published most of the time, so inevitably it is loaded with errors since all of my blogs are in the stream of consciousness style. I write whatever pops into my head, and I don't think in grammatically correct sentences.

Having said that, I would never want someone to read my blog as their sole source of literature. To me, this is unacceptable. I think there is a lot to gain from reading a book that you can't necessarily accomplish while reading something online. Aside from the fact that an actual book is edited and therefore much more enriching to a student's ability to distinguish good grammar from bad, it's also hard to really get swept up into a story online and to spend hours reading it. The NYT article points out that children's reading comprehension levels are at an all time low, and I hate to admit that I fully agree that it is because most children don't read nearly as much as they used to. Even my generation, a lot more people read online versus reading a printed book. It's a whole new argument if whether or not reading Shakespeare in print varies from reading it online... one that I would like to see made and tested.

I've always loved reading books. I grew up reading all the time, and I still read every chance I get. Sometimes, I don't have the time, patience or the energy to throw myself into a book, but it's still a time that I relish and I can't get into reading novels on a screen. However, I prefer online articles to actual magazines or newspapers. They're easier to read and I can immediately do more research and delve a little deeper into the topic, especially since many such articles come equipped with a bevy of links to similar articles and sources. Lately, I've also come to appreciate some of the stories on quizilla, despite their flaws, because they offer a fresh source of literature from an unlikely source. Blogs are also something that I immensely enjoy reading for this same reason. I like that I can read ordinary people's work and don't have to rely only on the great minds' of the world for my written entertainment. Which is better? It's hard to say...

The Atlantic article's author says that he has a harder time losing himself in a big, thick, book these days. Spending so much time online is affecting his attention span and his ability to settle into a book. Honestly, I have found the same to be true for me. The more I read online and the more I neglect my printed books, the harder it becomes to sink back into them. If I pay equal attention to both and make sure that I am still reading on a regular basis, my reading habits remain relatively unaffected. What does this say? You could argue that my reading material is to blame, or my laziness, but I'm not so sure. At any rate, these articles are thought provoking. I don't fully agree or fully disagree with either one. I think it's important for our youth to be able to read online, but I also think it's important for them to be able to read a good, old-fashioned book. I hope the book never goes out of style... I will never grow tired of cracking a new cover and listening to the pages rustle as I turn the page. Putting down a finished book is satisfying in a way that closing the browser window will never be for me.

1 comment:

Ronnie said...

I think I just adjust my reading style depending on what I'm reading. Since I read so much, I have to go about reading journal articles and books in a different way than I would read the news or blogs. I have found, though, that I'm less motivated to put forth the concentration necessary to read important things. I really have to push myself sometimes.