The New York Times (“Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” by Motoko Rich) gets into the debate about whether Web literacy is the same as book larnin’. If we are to believe the article, Americans have only two opinions: yes and no. Which is good, because a third opinion would be downright confusing to someone such as myself, who reads . . . wait a minute, I read books and articles! On paper and online!
Cuteness aside, clearly we have to address Internet literacy as a nation, if only to ensure that future generations do not come of age thinking that octopi grow on trees.
My favorite quote comes early on:
Young people “aren’t as troubled as some of us older folks are by reading that doesn’t go in a line,” said Rand J. Spiro, a professor of educational psychology at Michigan State University who is studying reading practices on the Internet. “That’s a good thing because the world doesn’t go in a line, and the world isn’t organized into separate compartments or chapters.”
I agree with Mr. Spiro. I myself was irreparably harmed by my own chapter-based education. When I left the groves of academe for the real world, I found it hard to cope with the rather more free-form experience of reality–and the utter lack of predictably spaced cliffhangers made me want to quit my job and return to the comfort of English 201: The Victorian Novel.
Seems to me we should be focusing more on what people are reading than how they’re reading it. Is “Web-based” going to become slang for “scattershot and poorly proofed”? Then how do you explain Salon?
But above all, anyone who’s taken a look around lately knows that the last thing we need is to encourage people to have even shorter attention spans. Remember what Santayana said, whoever he was.