Monday, July 28, 2008

5.*: Online reading: A starter

[Note - of relevance to ePrimer 5, once finished].

"Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?" is a rich insight into the issues surrounding reading in the Web 2.0 age. The suggestions range from redefining what reading is, to considering the purpose or reading itself ("finding what you need", as one suggests).

This issue seems to be one in the limelight at the moment. Recent works by Jeanneney, Keen, and particularly Bauerlein make reference to it; the recent article by Carr bought it again into the limelight.

There are a number of concerning issues in the story for me. One is the quote from Zachary Sims, teenager: "The Web is more about a conversation... Books are more one-way". Why is this observation about books a criticism? Why is the internal dialogue from books, the internal conversation, vicarious experience and reflection, somehow inferior to a Web-facilitated conversation?

For me the issue is not 'either-or', it is most certainly 'both-and'. If the Net Gen cannot sustain both an appreciation and ability to engage with extended narrative and what seem to be effective strategies for dealing with the plethora of information available over the Web, its members will be detrimentally affected.

I finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird only yesterday morning to my 12 year-old, who set his alarm for 6:30am so that we could finish it (very unusual for a boy who is usually dragged out of bed at 7:30am!) We're now looking forward to seeing Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch... black and white, but, hey, it's the story and characters we're into. We have just started The Call of the Wild, and he is reading The Two Towers himself (I read the entire series to him about five years ago, finishing just before Return of the King was released in theatres... odd that in Amazon the DVDs now appear in listing before the books!) The "one-way" story of Mockingbird has helped him to see the world, and people, in a new way. Within its meta-narrative are accounts of humanity, love, prejudice, and society which a "finding what you need" mentality misses entirely.

No doubt there will be much said as the online reading debate unfolds. I simply hope that we are careful to not lose the implicit messages that extended reading provides. It is these, after all, that influence our personal development. The Wikipedia plot summary is accurate, but does not replace the vicarious experience of a dedicated reader. Unfortunately many of the comments to the "Literacy Debate" article miss this entirely; reading, to many, is reading. Perhaps the real issue is one of engagement, the extent to which the reader is willing to invest themselves in a vicarious experience rather than a quest for answers.

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