Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Internet Reading vs. Reading Literature

The notion that kids may be reading less is often considered not such a bad thing because they're using the Internet more these days. Aren't they reading on the Internet? Why doesn't that count? What does it matter what they're reading, as long as they're reading, right?

First, a few numbers to consider:

According to an NEA study, between 1997 - 2003 home Internet use soared by 53% among 18- to 24-year-olds. From 1981 to 2003, the leisure reading of 15- to 17-year-olds fell to seven minutes a day from 18. What's more, 58% of middle and high school students use other media while reading. So, apparently, when kids report that they're reading, they're often also watching TV, playing video games, instant messaging, emailing or surfing the Web. Consider that by 2003, children were cramming an average of 8.5 hours of media consumption a day into just 6.5 hours—by multi-tasking.

So what's the big deal? Kids can do more than one thing at once; they can chew gum while texting! Isn't that a good thing in our ever more complex and technologically focused world?

But according to a new book, called The Dumbest Generation, by Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, youngsters are not spending their time learning on the web, reading Wikipedia articles about the finer points of Greek architecture or the root causes of The Great Depression; they're watching YouTube videos of guys riding scooters down stairs or saying "hi" to friends on MySpace and FaceBook. The professor suggests that "kids are using their technological advantage to immerse themselves in a trivial, solipsistic, distracting online world at the expense of more enriching activities—like opening a book or writing complete sentences."

The professor may have a point. Younger Americans do seem to struggle more than ever with writing coherent sentences, and many have difficulty carrying on an intelligent conversation—at least that's my experience.

I found out about this interesting book by reading a review of it in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. You can read it here. I've ordered a copy from the library (ordered it online while listening to music and sending text messages!), so I'll give you the scoop once I get my hands on it.