January 16, 2009

People of the Screen?

Maybe the question shouldn't be "Are we killing books?" but "Are we killing reading?"

This wonderfully in-depth column on implications of our new media and its impact on the mundane task of reading is thought-provoking. We've been debating a bit here in the Tech Center about the differences in reading online versus the printed page and I think this column makes a very persuasive case that we're underestimating the risk of something very basic as we plunge ahead in our love affair with technology with a seemingly tacit acceptance that any change is good change. Things change. People evolve. Get used to it. I find this attitude, especially in a library, to be rather odd and this really gets to the heart of my side of the argument.

From the column:
How strategic and targeted are we when we read on the screen? In a commissioned report published by the British Library in January 2008 (the cover of which features a rather alarming picture of a young boy with a maniacal expression staring at a screen image of Darth Vader), researchers found that everyone, teachers and students alike, “exhibits a bouncing/flicking behavior, which sees them searching horizontally rather than vertically....Users are promiscuous, diverse, and volatile.” As for the kind of reading the study participants were doing online, it was qualitatively different from traditional literacy. “It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense, indeed there are signs that new forms of ‛reading’ are emerging as users ‛power browse’ horizontally through titles, contents pages, and abstracts going for quick wins.” As the report’s authors concluded, with a baffling ingenuousness, “It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”

I think there is a legitimate point here. Now I wouldn't argue that reading online (if that's what we can call it) is bad, just very different. And hopefully in some ways it's better. But I would argue that clearly, in some very specific ways, it's worse. Much worse.

Take the time read the full column. Hopefully it will create a good debate.


Maria said...

I agreed with this very well-written column. While I love all the cool things I can do online (download songs to my iPod, scan news headlines, email, blogs, shop), when I read for pleasure I want a book. It's a break from the technology, it slows me down, & relaxes me. I think of technology as another option or tool, not a replacement for books & reading.

Phillip Kwik said...

I lost the author when he called diversity a "multiculturalism fad." He played his hand.

In academics and culture, the evolution to diversity and multiculturalism has not only happened, it is a good thing.

Likewise, the technological evolution of print -- from stone, to tablet, to paper, to screen -- not only is reality, it is progress. It is a good thing. It has opened floodgates of information and knowledge, and led to increased democratization and a sharing of experience. It has not displaced reading.

The author can keep his tomes of "dead white males" in print, up on his bookshelf. I'll download them if I ever need them.