I had to stop and think about this one, because my automatic knee-jerk reaction is, what are you talking about?? You just don’t understand the internet!
And I thought about it. And now I’ve revised my response to, what are you talking about?? You just don’t understand reading!
First of all, not all online reading is the same. Second of all, not all book-based reading is the same, either.
Reading to gain information does not equal reading for the love of story does not equal reading to communicate, respond and interact. There are various points where all of these things intersect, but there seems to be an assumption that one precludes the other, and that one holds more inherent value, which I don’t think is so.
There’s a flawed assumption at the heart of their main example. This fifteen year old girl isn’t interested in reading the books her mom brings home from the library for her. (The important part of that sentence: her mom brings home for her.) When you look at the end of the article, you’ll find that she read a holocaust memoir, and was fascinated. So her mom brought her another holocaust memoir, and guess what? She liked that one too! So she brought her a fantasy novel. Which… didn’t go over. This is not about a lack of sustained interest in print books–it’s a failed attempt at reader’s advisory!
There’s this assumption that kids should be reading fiction–presumably novels of weight and substance. But look at all the talk and studies over the past few years specifically surrounding gender and reading, and how an awful lot of boys in particular will read vast amounts of things like non-fiction, magazines, even comics and manga (all traditional print on paper), and complicated text in video games, yet show no interest in what many teacher insist is REAL reading–fiction, preferably of some substance. If it has an award winner sticker on the front, even better. Maybe we should be talking about how to engage students in storytelling and narratives and fiction… but don’t tell me because they don’t like fiction they don’t like to read.
A ten year old pouring over the non-linear, graphics-heavy Eyewitness book about World War II is reading a print book, decoding text, and doing something akin to browsing wikipedia. Is he studying literature? No, but he’s still reading. Whereas the teenage Twilight fan devouring long, multipart epics on fanfiction.net is reading online, but is much closer to the traditional idea of proper reading than that kid with the Eyewitness book in his hands.
When I was working as a school librarian, it drove me up the wall to hear certain teachers tell their students, “Now, one of your books has to be fiction, and something at a grade four level!” I understand the need of teachers to encourage their students to challenge themselves, but dismissing nonfiction out of hand by saying “they’ll only look at the pictures” and often invalidating the books they had chosen based on their own interests because it wasn’t “at the right reading level,” how is that supposed to encourage reading for pleasure? The only way to become a more confident and capable reader is to read more, and the very best way to do that is to enjoy reading, whether it’s the RSS feed for New Scientist, or book 642 of the Magic Tree House series.
I think what it comes down to for me is an argument that bears a marked similarity to comments I’ve made around graphic novels–don’t confuse the medium with the message. We shouldn’t be making sweeping statements about “is reading the internet bad?” but looking at, what kinds of things are inherently different between the two mediums? (And here we’re heading into Web 2.0 territory…)
Thirdly, is it not highly ironic that the article itself is being passed around and creating dialogue and debate ON THE INTERNET?