In Defence of Readers

Mandy Brown writes a thoughtful post on reading in the digital age.

The web is still a noisy, crowded place—but it’s also limitless, and surely we can find space enough for reading—a space where the text speaks to the reader and the reader does not strain to hear.

The topic of online reading skills surfaces regularly among my university colleagues. Are the kids getting worse? There’s a persistent cliché that the generation I teach – born in 1990 or so – are native speakers of lingua computato and come to university with a built-in expertise at the manipulation of information and computer software in general. Not so, alas. Many of my students struggle with copy and paste…and need help reading web articles critically. What’s the relationship between the paper-based reading skills of old fogeys like me and the screen-based skills of the younger generations? That’s the question.

I wonder if this has something to do with specificity. When I was growing up, the answers to questions were contained within works like encyclopaedias and biographies, but distributed. A certain amount of processing was required to transform the information into a useful shape. The Internet, being somewhat broader and easier to search, contains information that might already be in a form necessary to answer the research question.

Just wonderin’.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that the younger generations are poorer readers. It might be that their reading skills are becoming more general; not so good at slow, critical reading of texts, but better at synergistic processing of multiple sources. This brave new world, eh?

A List Apart: Articles: In Defense of Readers

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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