The Same Old Circle

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Here’s the same old circle

Some Web evangelists say children should be evaluated for their proficiency on the Internet just as they are tested on their print reading comprehension. Starting next year, some countries will participate in new international assessments of digital literacy, but the United States, for now, will not.

Clearly, reading in print and on the Internet are different. On paper, text has a predetermined beginning, middle and end, where readers focus for a sustained period on one author’s vision. On the Internet, readers skate through cyberspace at will and, in effect, compose their own beginnings, middles and ends.

Young people “aren’t as troubled as some of us older folks are by reading that doesn’t go in a line,” said Rand J. Spiro, a professor of educational psychology at Michigan State University who is studying reading practices on the Internet. “That’s a good thing because the world doesn’t go in a line, and the world isn’t organized into separate compartments or chapters.”

Some traditionalists warn that digital reading is the intellectual equivalent of empty calories. Often, they argue, writers on the Internet employ a cryptic argot that vexes teachers and parents. Zigzagging through a cornucopia of words, pictures, video and sounds, they say, distracts more than strengthens readers. And many youths spend most of their time on the Internet playing games or sending instant messages, activities that involve minimal reading at best.

Much of this is the equivalent of a ripped, jumbled map, where “you are here” is positioned at random.

So much has been written on hypertext. But are the “experts” reading?

One response to “The Same Old Circle”

  1. Jesse says:

    ‘Empty calories’ are there to be had but so are ‘healthy meals’ and ‘reasonable snacks’ to extend their device a bit.

    Forums, for example allow communication in either means. Some will be filled with interesting and insightful text. Others will be full of fluff and the like.

    Although multi-tasking on one’s computer is prevalent these days, reading on a screen should not be counted out. Addition of other media to a piece of literature can often add to the effect, as seen in early and current hypertext works.

    Hard to find books are in some cases readily available in PDF format for those seeking them out, as is a wealth of other literature.

    Reading on a page and a screen are two different things, but they are both important. It’s not time to burn all the books just yet though.