The Future of Reading

Thu 7/31/08 12:35 PM

“What we are losing in this country and presumably around the world is the sustained, focused, linear attention developed by reading”
Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts

“I was trying to imagine this and I was like, I can’t do this. It was just so — wow.” Nadia Konyk

In many arguments I often end up as the, somewhat anachronistic, defender of print culture. However in a recent article in the New York Times the person I most identify with is Zachary Sims, the eighteen year old online reader from Old Greenwich, CT. The graphic that goes with the article clarifies why this is so: http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/07/27/books/20080727_READING_GRAPHIC.html
The online process described in the graphic is how one should read. That is the way the best readers approach the act of reading books. However, as the graphic shows, many readers in practice follow the print process description. One curious difference implied in the graphic is that print readers read one book (alone and then stop) whereas online readers search and read multiple sites and share. A better approach to print reading would be to search and read multiple books and share.

However the downside of the internet shows up here as well. The article has an average paragraph length of 45.7 words; hardly a style of writing conducive to developing a well-made argument, let alone clear connections and transitions. The article is full of disconnected anecdotes and non-sequitors too numerous to detail and is held together only by its general subject matter and non-developmental block form.

Also the following examples show clear lack of interest (perhaps even ability) in communicating, let alone understanding, statistical information:

“According to Department of Education data cited in the report, just over a fifth of 17-year-olds said they read almost every day for fun in 2004, down from nearly a third in 1984. Nineteen percent of 17-year-olds said they never or hardly ever read for fun in 2004, up from 9 percent in 1984.”

“In a study of 2,032 representative 8- to 18-year-olds, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half used the Internet on a typical day in 2004, up from just under a quarter in 1999. The average time these children spent online on a typical day rose to one hour and 41 minutes in 2004, from 46 minutes in 1999.”

“Hunter scored in the top quartile. In fact, about a third of the students in the study, led by Professor Leu, scored below average on traditional reading tests but did well on the Internet assessment.”

In fact, the use of statistical examples seems to serve a merely decorative function creating variety in the style of content and a veneer of scientific authority without providing relevant context or clearly supporting an argument. This is a problem exacerbated by the decontextualized research methods often used with online media.

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~ by severalfourmany on July 31, 2008.

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