Is Online Reading Really Reading?

The New York Times has an interesting article about how literacy is changing as more teens read online.  I am obviously an English teacher, and I have a lot invested in books, but I also read a lot online, and I see the value.  What do you think?

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15 thoughts on “Is Online Reading Really Reading?

  1. Is it reading? Yes. Is it worthwhile? Most often not.

    Writing on the internet tends to be in short bursts and thus not really holding attention for very long. Reading blogs or Wikipedia doesn't make up for reading novels or non-fiction. Also, very little content on the net goes to an editor first. Those that just read magazines and newspapers are hardly, if any better though.

    People that say books are one way and the web is about conversation don't know what it means to read books. I also am wary to agree with their definition of conversation. I suppose one of the major problems is: few know how or why they should read real books and that when they're reading and done with said books they talk about them.

  2. The internet will never replace books until one can safely take one's computer and soak in a bubble bath.

    :P

  3. Nathaniel, as someone who does a lot of reading online that I do find worthwhile, I quibble only with semantics. Otherwise, we are in agreement about the importance of books, and you have a good point about the editorial process. The girl in the article reading fan fiction on the Internet isn't being exposed to literature vetted by an editorial process, but she does see literature as more participatory, which is something I like.

    Clix, very good point, indeed!

  4. I read a bit online myself, however almost all of it is/was available in print. Reading academic journals, transcriptions of lectures, an occasional magazine article, et cetera.

    Wikipedia is, if you look at the sources, more or less derived from print.

    Just trying to say that the best of the internet relies entirely on the printed word.

    Read Pride and Prejudice and taking to heart everything Austen is saying about participating with books just makes me wonder why it is that people think they're a one way sort of thing.

    Perhaps the ultimate example of fan fiction is the writing process which went into Don Quixote. (I'm referring to the second part.) That's fiction worth responding to.

  5. If it is available in print, why do you read it online? My hunch is that it's easier to obtain. If nothing else, the web does make it easier to obtain and read information quickly.

    I don't understand why people don't connect with books like you're describing either. Part of me wonders if they were somehow never taught to do so.

  6. Easier to obtain and cheaper! I can read a book for free online or I can go out and buy a $20 trade paperback or a $30 hardcover copy (I live in Canada). That said, I prefer to do my novel reading in paper format but pretty much everything else I prefer to read online – news, research articles, journals, blogs, etc.

    Here's something that may appall you…

    I'm in my third year of an English BA. In that time I've probably been to our school library to check out paper materials less then 5 times. The majority of my research is done via the online database of academic journals or via books on the web (especially with the Google Books feature).

    I know how to use the physical library system but I usually choose not to (and get by extremely well grade-wise without doing so) because 1) books are heavy, 2) its not always convenient to make a trip to the library, 3) I always forget to return library materials and then accumulate a ton of fines, and lastly and most importantly 4) I find online materials to be much more convenient when writing papers because I can copy and paste quotes and locate information much more easily within articles or books with the "Find" search.

    Anyways, interesting topic! The NYT article left me no more enlightened on whether the internet is detrimental towards reading or not – it seems to have its pros and cons.

    I'd be really disappointed if the only online reading my kids did was Facebook and YouTube, but if I knew they were browsing PBS and Wikipedia and at least sometimes reading online books then I wouldn't be bothered.

  7. The Globe dumbed it down way too much. Summarize a book of 230 pages chock full of statistics to 20 sentences involving none.

    The author of the Newsweek article clearly didn't read the book very closely, using rebuttals that Bauerlein expected and already proved false in the book.

    The CNET article didn't quite get the point of the book. He's not knocking those kids at all. Think: larger population not three exemplars.

    All three of these articles point to the question of: Should one write reviews having only done a quick skim, missing the finer points and the larger picture?

  8. Should a book dismiss an entire generation as dumb? I think Will Richardson has a point in saying that the book's title, labeling today's students as "the dumbest generation" is "demeaning and smacks more of marketing than reality."

    Will read the book and shares his thoughts here, though I'll point out he was not quite finished when he wrote the post, and I couldn't find a post in which he discusses his overall impression after having finished the book.

  9. I think a book can dismiss a generation as dumb if it feels it is true. It has very little to do with marketing in my opinion ads a major point that Bauerlein is trying to get across is, there is access to great material on the web and it is not difficult to find. However, the youth don't look outside of the social spheres of Facebook, Myspace, et cetera. They concern themselves with little outside of the day-to-day, reality television sort of life. They intentionally insulate themselves from the real world they should live in. (No, reading headlines from Google news doesn't much count as the informed citizen.) They are swept up in the present and lack any educated critical opinion that must be derived from the past. "Self-criticism in light of tradition," is a phrase Bauerlein uses in the book.

    You certainly know the sheepish phrase, "I was being dumb." Well the author is trying to get the youth to get smart because they can be if they so want. They have the great books there on Project Gutenberg, they have the libraries, they have access to decent news sources.

    I think I can write with some knowledge of this. I am a 22 year-old graduate student in Literature and Philosophy. I know all about the under 30 crowd. My undergraduate professors made the same complaints that Bauerlein brings forth.

    The English major who posted above is lazy, consuming the "Big Mac diet" as a professor I know called it. High on calories, perhaps getting what one needs, but devoid of goodness. I knew many fellow English majors who did not use the library and our professors graded, but moreso took notes on character, accordingly. A journal article on Shakespeare holds significantly less weight than an extensive commentary. The above English major fits into The Dumbest Generation quite well, looking only for what one thinks they need–the in your face stone-cold facts–and missing out on the pleasure of the hunt, the careful poring over, and the interpretation that one really gains understanding from.

  10. I, too, feel that I can write with some knowledge of today's youth, as I have been teaching them for more than 10 years now, and I concede some students fit the profile that it sounds like Bauerlein is describing (though not having read the book, I will not say for certain). I refuse to believe, nor is it my experience, that all students fit this profile, and that broad brush is what I object to. Anyway, the argument has been made for about as long as humanity has been around to make it that the next generation is going to ruin the world because they're not as ________ or don't believe ________ or won't do ___________. And we're all still here to argue about it.

    I also want to remind you about the comments policy I have in place here.

    It's interesting that you would agree with Bauerlein's assessment when he includes you — your entire generation — in it. You don't strike me as someone who should be labeled a member of the dumbest generation.

  11. I see you rewrote your last remarks.

    If you do care about this issue of literacy and the internet addressed in The Dumbest Generation, I suggest you read the book for yourself. I merely wished to call attention to it. I think it is easily seen by the supposed rebuttals and responses to the book, many seem more than ready to sweep this out of sight without much consideration.

    The statistics will frighten you. The first 160 pages are dominated by them and then slowly less so until it becomes more of an analysis. He's not relying on a few small studies but hundreds of them. The perhaps "demeaning" use of the word dumb slowly begins to explain itself. He cannot of course write of everyone, no critique of a generation can do that. He writes about he majority while allowing there to be the fringe who are not applicable.

    I do believe you're correct in saying every generation feels that the next one is going to ruin the world, however at that same instance I see so much hope put into the next one as well. There is hope in Bauerlein's book and he invests most of it in the educators who step up to fight for teaching attentiveness to books (of all fields), not just accepting that the students will use quick, poorly written, Wikipedia-like summaries that don't have anything on the real thing, though perhaps getting close to the basic meaning. (An interesting more instructional example would be to give a class the Wikipedia article on poetic meter and then the chapter on it from Western Wind by Mason & Nims. Ask which one they enjoy reading more, which helps them the most, which makes them curious about more poetry.) Bauerlein stresses teaching the basics of writing again. (Something I myself have much to work on never having been taught grammar.) What better than to force students to slow down, sit quietly, read, reflect, discuss a book, and then write a response/analysis? Some say they don't have the attention spans, but that is not much of an answer. The only way to combat that is to fight for deliberate reading and writing rather than encouraging the same things that have caused the problem in the first place. It's not easy, but no one ever said education was.

    The book, quite short, organized, and well thought-out, is worth any educator or parent's time. No one will like it though, it's frustrating and at points enraging, not from what Bauerlein writes but because of what the studies that are exhibited in this book illustrate. One can't help but get concerned about the state of literacy or what Bauerlein calls a-literacy.

  12. To clarify for other visitors who might come by and be curious about Nathaniel's first sentence, I added a detail about every generation thinking the next will ruin the world, and I was originally much harsher with him about violating the terms of my comments policy in calling another commenter lazy. I also added a detail pointing out he is in the generation Bauerlein targets as dumb, though he doesn't seem so himself, and I find it hard to reconcile — cognitive dissonance, I suppose.

    At any rate, I think Nathaniel has said his peace, and should anyone be interested in the book, it's out there complete with an Amazon link for ease of purchase.

  13. Dana – thanks for putting this topic out on the table. I just want to give my example – a 45 year old guy with a B.A. in Art History and Spanish Language/Literature who, if he could, would be the constant student racking up degrees. I already have started an M.A. in Renaissance Art and an M.Div. but never finished due to other constraints.

    So while my past has been that of a "book" person and all reading done with such tools, for the past two years it has been mostly online. Here are what I see as the benefits:

    - reading online is cheaper, greener, more convenient (for someone like me with severe arthritis and not always ambulatory) and allows me access to a greater variety of material

    - just like the availability of digital music files, I often sample and then follow up with a purchase via Amazon or another vendor. Most of my purchases are related to my ancestral lines that I am researching right now.

    - online reading has been able to propel me back into writing which I have not done in close to 20 years. And I don't mean simple blog updates. I've written about my mother's early on-set Alzheimer's Disease and the effects on the rest of the family; about my 20 year old cousin killed in Iraq in 2005; and about other aspects of my life. If it were not for the ability to blog and test the waters on some topics, I don't think I would have rekindled my love of writing. I now write almost every morning, realizing that said piece may never turn into something to be shared with others. But it is the act of writing and the discipline involved in writing daily that is important to me.

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