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Internet Literacy
July 27, 2008 12:26 PM   Subscribe

When is reading reading? Or, rather, when is it good for you? The New York Times looks at how the internet is changing the ways we think and how we learn.
posted by ztdavis (66 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I imagine plenty of us here on metafilter spend more time reading online than off, but I find it hard to discount all online reading as worthless. The same argument could be said reading print media if you draw all your examples from tabloids and supermarket romance novels.

The internet has changed how I hunt for new information, but I certainly wouldn't say that is a bad thing.
posted by ztdavis at 12:32 PM on July 27, 2008


Nadia also writes her own stories. She posted “Dieing Isn’t Always Bad,” about a girl who comes back to life as half cat, half human, on both fanfiction.net and quizilla.com.

Nadia said she wanted to major in English at college and someday hopes to be published. She does not see a problem with reading few books. “No one’s ever said you should read more books to get into college,” she said.


Despite a fleeting urge to shake her by the shoulders, I think she will do just fine in this world. There are important skills that are "what it takes" to work in the magazine and publishing industry, having very little to do with literacy or taste, and there's no reason she couldn't have them or develop them. Although I think she'll decide to be a communications major, instead.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:34 PM on July 27, 2008


Get off of my lawn.
posted by public at 12:58 PM on July 27, 2008


What people need are critical thinking skills. So many people just seem to believe whatever they read without first pausing to ask themselves if it's actually true, or what the motivation of the author actually is.
posted by delmoi at 1:15 PM on July 27, 2008 [13 favorites]


I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on my iPhone... does that count as 'good' reading?
posted by Huck500 at 1:22 PM on July 27, 2008


"As teenagers’ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading...."

Others more rigorously point out that the decline of our education system is a more significant factor than blaming a particular medium for the perceived dire shortcomings of Kids These Days.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:24 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


What people need are critical thinking skills. So many people just seem to believe whatever they read without first pausing to ask themselves if it's actually true, or what the motivation of the author actually is.

That sounds good on the surface, but can you support it?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:28 PM on July 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


Others more rigorously point out that the decline of our education system is a more significant factor than blaming a particular medium for the perceived dire shortcomings of Kids These Days.

Others? Rigorously?
posted by Huck500 at 1:30 PM on July 27, 2008


"Some traditionalists warn that digital reading is the intellectual equivalent of empty calories."

Then, shaking their heads in dismay, they return to their latest Amazon.com acquisition from the NY Times' "Best Summer Reading" list.

“Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media,” Dana Gioia, the chairman of the N.E.A., wrote in the report’s introduction, “they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading.”

Straw Man - how is "intellectual" book content fundamentally different from "intellectual" web content? And doesn't "no measurable substitute" go both ways - i.e., there ain't no difference?

Geez - can you tell I get worked up by bullshit articles like this?
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:31 PM on July 27, 2008


Lee Siegel ate my balls.
posted by nasreddin at 1:32 PM on July 27, 2008


tl;dr
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 1:39 PM on July 27, 2008 [7 favorites]


An interesting site that was linked in the article: Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Over 90% of readers in a test thought this was an 'authoritative site', and it sure passes the quick smell test for me, too. If I had just stumbled across the site, I might have said, "hmm, interesting", and treated it as true until I found out differently. It's a well-formed page with excellent grammar; the idea that it's a hoax might not have occurred to me when casually browsing. I think that's clearly pointing at a problem, but I can't articulate precisely what it is yet.

As far as the main thrust of the article goes: one thought that comes to mind is that writing on the web tends to be very succinct. We pack a lot of meaning into relatively few words. Even the FPP's article seemed overly long to me; they took about twice as much space to convey the basic information as they actually needed, and I found myself skimming whole paragraphs.

I wonder if the low testing scores come from kids simply losing patience with sifting out ideas buried in verbosity?
posted by Malor at 1:40 PM on July 27, 2008


I looked up Nadia's story on fanfiction.net. It's about what you would expect, and was pretty entertaining. I'm not making fun of her. More 14-year-olds should get excited about writing.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:40 PM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've always been a voracious reader. When I was fifteen, I would read three or four books a week. At the time, I was heavily into 1930's-1970's SF - Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Niven, Wyndham, their hundreds of contemporaries. My "low point" of reading was in my early 20's, when I started work; for no reason I'm clearly aware of, I cut down to about one book a week, and the daily newspaper. Then the internet became broadly available; since then I'm still averaging a book a week, but I'm reading upwards of fifty thousand words a day.

Even a day spent at work, and an evening on World of Warcraft, involves at least twenty thousand words by my estimate. Counting them like calories is an interesting exercise: at least a dozen emails, probably 200 words each. About a thousand words just in signage passed. The newspaper at lunch, probably thirty pages actually read, probably 500 words read per page. WoW accounts for at least 1000 words in an hour of play: descriptors of creatures, character abilities, chat text, all are words.

Somebody made a point in the context of EULAs (which nobody really reads): the modern computer user engages in more contracts (assuming these to be contracts) in an afternoon's OS re-install than previous generations engaged in during their entire working life. I suspect the same is broadly true of text. More text flashes before a modern 15-year-old's eyes in a day, than in weeks, maybe months, of her grandparents' lives at the same age.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:42 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


the idea that it's a hoax might not have occurred to me when casually browsing

But it's an octopus in a tree.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:42 PM on July 27, 2008 [16 favorites]


too long; didn't read
posted by orthogonality at 1:43 PM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Staying Awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading, by Ursula K. Le Guin.
posted by josephtate at 1:47 PM on July 27, 2008 [5 favorites]


I've probably read more words as a result of clicking Metafilter every day since Xmas 2000 than I did for the eight years preceeding when I was an avid reader of print in high school and university.
posted by autodidact at 1:56 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Stands to reason that if the kids didn't have the Internet, they'd be reading Jane Austen, like they always used to.
posted by Phanx at 2:10 PM on July 27, 2008 [7 favorites]


This argument baffles me. If you are reading chats and poorly written tripe online or reading poorly written books offline, it's not much different, except at least with the chats you are having some interaction with other people. It assumes "the internet" is one big teen chatroom, which is kind of like assuming that all telephone calls are similar or all books are worthy.

And like the internet, books are not fact-checked, so the argument about critical thinking is important in both-- it's just silly.

What does irk me is people who want to write but do not read. As an author, I have numerous readers contact me who want to write their own books about their personal experiences in the tough love programs I have written about but they have not actually read my book! I'm sorry, but how can you even think about contacting an author for advice and support when you haven't read their book?

And if you don't want to read, why should other people want to read what you write?
posted by Maias at 2:22 PM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


drinking Coke is bad for you, says Pepsi.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:22 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Look at all the people that read all those books 50 years Ago. They are all dead. What good did reading do them?
posted by Postroad at 2:24 PM on July 27, 2008 [10 favorites]


While Nadia's mother is concerned, she has apparently sees her daughter's behavior and interests as a given. "I gave her all these books, but she kept getting online and reading fan-fiction." As if the mother had no power over how much internet little Nadia gets, or what she uses it for.

I thought parenting was about being in charge.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 2:27 PM on July 27, 2008


Kids like kid stuff; this is blowing my mind.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:33 PM on July 27, 2008


Also: The prevalence of handheld devices capable of connecting to teh internets means that these kids can talk about their Britneys and their Lindsays and their Hannah Montlohans all while occupying MY LAWN! Why, in my day....
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2008


"As teenagers’ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading...."

I was going to complaing about standardised testing being the problem. Then I re-read the sentence and noticed the word 'reading' in between the two words.

Fuck. I used to read good.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:40 PM on July 27, 2008


complain

I used to write betterer too.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:41 PM on July 27, 2008


Reading Metafilter has made me a better person. A larger, drunker, more hunchbacked person, to be sure, but better. In like, my soul or some shit.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:43 PM on July 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


“No one’s ever said you should read more books to get into college,” she said.

No, but the ability to write well is best cultivated by reading good writing.
posted by honest knave at 2:44 PM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


As an aside, I like how the print version of that article is "sponsored" by the author of Fight Club. Palahniuk's an entertaining and, it could be argued, mildly informative writer, to be sure, but his novels are more like a collection of Wikipedia hyperlinks within a loosely plotted framework, rather than actual narratives. They are, in fact, the "empty calories" this article so exhaustively rails against.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:53 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I know my own (outside, pleasure) reading took a major dive when I took my current job. I read - and write - all day long. Literally. And I'm reading for context, and I'm cross-referencing, and on and on. A lot of this is mediated by the computers on my desk, but not all of it. I've made a point of getting back into the dead-tree reading in my off hours, but there are some days when I'm simply unable to run my eyes along another line of text.

Could this be a factor for more than just li'l ol' me? Naaaah... That would put a real crimp in the zOMG DECLINE OF CIVILIZATION narrative.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:18 PM on July 27, 2008


This entire article is a crock of handwaving, moral panic, won't-somebody-think-of-the-children shite, absolutely stuffed with loaded language, false equivalences and barely-articulated straw man counterpoints.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:22 PM on July 27, 2008 [6 favorites]


I'm confused as to what aspect of "reading online" the sources in the article are looking down on. Is it the lack of "editorial control" -- that kids are reading fanfiction instead of To Kill A Mockingbird, and that anyone can publish anything? They imply this by pointing out how lame some fanfiction is, but don't go anywhere with it.

Is it that hunting for information online involves seeking out, evaluating, and integrating information from many sources, rather than reading a single authoritative text?

Is it that reading a book tends to involve solitary, silent thought, whereas reading online involves juggling distractions from email/im/etc? If so, is reading a PDF article in full-screen different from reading a book?

Is it something in the difference between reading high-contrast, high-resolution print on paper and text on a screen? I believe it's a different experience, and vastly prefer print if I'm going to be reading more than a few pages, but these people don't seem to be interested in that.

Is it something about the ease of searching for information online? I can use ACM's Portal, for instance, to find relevant articles in computer science and print them or read them on-screen. Would these people take offense to this, but not walking to the library and checking out the physical copy of the journal?

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that these folks need to define what aspect of reading they're concerned about.
posted by Alterscape at 3:35 PM on July 27, 2008


I love that picture of the family in the living room with the two parents reading print and the two kids at their laptops. In our house all three of us, two parents and our kid, sometimes sit in the living room with our respective laptops like that. The irony of this is, of course, we're all reading this lame article online on our laptops.
posted by octothorpe at 3:52 PM on July 27, 2008


Hmm. I've just been encountering this attitude lately, as the topic of reading has come up with friends. I do a lot of reading -- some of it print, some of it online -- but only the former seems to "count" to some people. I wonder if they think the internet is all goatse and youtube?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:09 PM on July 27, 2008


Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that these folks need to define what aspect of reading they're concerned about.
Headline aside, I think the article's more "look at this change that's happening", rather than "oh noes a change is happening". But I skimmed it, like I do everything on teh netz
posted by bonaldi at 4:18 PM on July 27, 2008


This is like discussing alcoholism in a liquor store.
posted by proj at 4:33 PM on July 27, 2008 [9 favorites]


I think Internet reading counts. With most things, quality trumps quantity.

I do think there is something about Internet use decreasing attention spans. I flit from site to site. A newspaper article here, a blog entry there. If something isn't particularly engaging I'll jump to something else. With the Internet a lot of us are used to instant gratification and some kids may be experiencing this loss of patience as well. I read the article in The Atlantic that the NYT article referenced. Like the author of the Atlantic piece said, I think we're used to having things summed up for us. A lot of us want our information now, and in condensed form. I think it can be said that the internet is changing how we read. How we think and learn? I don't know.

I still read long novels but not as much as I used to. The amount of books I read has decreased. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, I get a lot of pleasure from the Internet. I do think it's more rewarding to sit down with a good book and become immersed in a story than reading something for a few minutes and moving on.
posted by LoriFLA at 4:56 PM on July 27, 2008


Okay, this is not exactly the topic of conversation, but I just want to say something about Wikipedia being called a dumber-downer.

Others? Rigorously?

If I'm reading it right, this is a joke about the unrigourous allusion to 'others' as a means of backing up your point without having to actually cite anyone (which is a particularly weaselly version of an 'argument from authority'). The funny thing about this is, it seems to me that awareness of this kind of rhetorical sneakiness has been boosted by a careful reading of Wikipedia (ie, clicking through to the discussion pages once in a while, becoming familiarized with the acronyms).

While this article describes the kid's use of Wikipedia as evidence of the decline of research skills, I personally have become a more instinctually critical reader because of the concepts Wikipedia distills so succinctly into 'NPOV', 'weasel words', and similar terms. While I was already aware in theory that 'everything is biased' before Wikipedia arrived, after having Wikipedia as a sort of 'colourless liquid' against which to compare all other forms of writing, that theoretical knowledge became perceptual; it became just totally obvious that everything else was coloured.

In the words of the completely old-school paper-era deconstructionist J. Hillis Miller in an academic paper, “(I am using Wikipedia here, and in what I say about Judith Butler later, as the best source I know for highly informed received opinion about a given topic or writer.)”
posted by skwt at 5:07 PM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


The bit about consuming "empty [reading] calories" online smells like a strawman to me. I've seen plenty of "empty calories" running around in print as well. Look at the "Romance" section at any bookstore! And sure, some sci-fi, mystery, and general fiction as well, but really - looking at the synopses on the backs of romance novels makes me feel like I've just gotten five IQ points dumber.

I once had a conversation with someone who honestly would have preferred her mother spend all day watching Oprah than do what she'd been doing lately - reading romance novels.

Print =/= Smrt.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:28 PM on July 27, 2008


I think a good question to raise would be this:

Who amongst these "kids need to read more books!" lipflappers has been into a bookstore lately? And I don't mean a specialist or independent bookstore, or a great big multi-storey enterprise in the CBD, but one of those bookstores you would find in a suburban mall, where mom & pop do their grocery shopping and get a cup of coffee while their photos are being developed and think to themselves "Hey, maybe I'll pop in and get little Joseph/Josephine a nice book to read"? I don't know what the Starbucks/7-11/McDonald's equivalent of bookstores in the States or UK is, but here in Australia it's Angus & Robertson. If you're in a shopping centre that actually even has a bookstore, chances are it's going to be an A&R.

Go on, pop in and take a look. I'll stay here and smoke this cigarette and scope the fit birds. Oh, lady, you should not be wearing those jeans, and your kid's feet are filthy. Can't you buy them some bloody shoes? And what's with- Oh, wow, that didn't take you long!

So did you find anything good to read? What's that? Jamie Oliver's Favourite Sauteed Salmon Recipes, okay...Jesus, CEO, I see...How To Attract The Perfect Man By Being Less Fat and Every Boy's Bumper Book Of Bum Jokes? You felt suffocated by all the tomes on crystal healing and feng shui garden water features shaped like spitting cats? C'mon, surely you're exaggerating! What about the 'Literature' section? They don't have a 'Literature' section? Well, what about 'Classics'? No 'Classics' either, huh? Well, there just has to have been a 'Fiction' section!

Neat! I knew they wouldn't let us down! And that book you got seems pretty hefty and important-looking, what's the title? Oh...Tree Of Smoke. Well, never mind. Maybe that new Will Ferrell movie is out on DVD. You know, the one where he plays that goofy character? I just about wet myself! The kids will love it!

Honestly, if the choice is between reading online fan-fiction and reading the shit foisted on us by mass-market bookstores (which are, for the most part, not only most people's primary exposure to bookstores, but most people's primary exposure to books), then, well, I'd rather just give the kids the keys to both the liquor cabinet and the SUV.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:02 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


You equate Tree of Smoke with a Will Ferrell movie? Wow.
posted by bonaldi at 6:06 PM on July 27, 2008


Doesn't writing fanfiction tend to require you read/watch the source material in the first place?
posted by Xany at 6:11 PM on July 27, 2008


skwt, I agree completely that Wikipedia's tendency to highlight its own weaknesses is one of its strongest points, as it encourages critical reading. I think Wikipedia's motto should be "because you can't believe anything else you read either." It should be in big letters on every page.

An important distinction between paper writing and online writing is that paper is, on average, older. Any selection of writings, whether filtered by a publisher or not, will have some gems and some junk; the difference is that the junk goes out of print and all the copies vanish. Reprinting provides an additional, independent quality filter. Citation (why do they scan those cats) and moderation can serve similar purposes online, but not every forum permits these.

Of course, to pick one of turgid dahlia's examples, Jesus CEO went through seventeen printings before Amazon put its copyright page online. No filter is perfect.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 6:13 PM on July 27, 2008


You equate Tree of Smoke with a Will Ferrell movie? Wow.

Yes, because I am elitist that way. Your favourite book sucks etc.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:15 PM on July 27, 2008


Though, having said that, I tried to read Tree Of Smoke and gave up after a hundred or so pages because it was just so lamentably awful. B.R. Myers, as always, frames it quite succinctly.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:17 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well put, skwt (and fantabulous timewaster.) Have you seen this new t-shirt? It's a joke about backing up your sources and being careful to trust everything you read. On a website that also features "It's Called Beer Pong", "I Wanna Banga Topanga", and "Canada: America's Hat" t-shirts. A factual accuracy joke marketed towards frat boys. That's fantastic.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:37 PM on July 27, 2008


I do think there's a problem with students not getting enough instruction about how to separate low-quality from high-quality information; a lot of kids will just run a Google search when they have a topic to research, and occasionally a search for a particular African-American inventor will turn up a white supremacy website, or a search for information about coal will turn up astroturf about how awesomely environmentally friendly coal is.

Reading novels is an entirely different beast from reading Metafilter, or Wikipedia, or MMORPG chats; but it's not such a different beast from reading fanfiction.net, except that the copy editing is better. At fifteen I read a lot more fanfiction than novels... and now look at me, I'm a librarian!
posted by Jeanne at 6:44 PM on July 27, 2008


...about how awesomely environmentally friendly coal is.

Well, yeah.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:56 PM on July 27, 2008


Yes, because I am elitist that way. Your favourite book sucks etc.
No, fine, I mean I too hated Tree of Smoke after a one-chapter sampler. I just thought it an odd sort of iconoclasm to sneer at the bookshop that stocked it; it might not be a great work, but nor is it Jamie and The Love Guru's Guide to Feng Shui for the Soul.
posted by bonaldi at 7:03 PM on July 27, 2008


>> Others? Rigorously?

> If I'm reading it right, this is a joke about the unrigourous allusion to 'others' as a means of backing up your point without having to actually cite anyone ...

I admit I was more interested in being pithy than in authoritatively backing up my statement. I'm appropriately ashamed. Chalk it up to new-member enthusiasm. I'm still fairly sure the article's crap, though.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:20 PM on July 27, 2008


No, fine, I mean I too hated Tree of Smoke after a one-chapter sampler. I just thought it an odd sort of iconoclasm to sneer at the bookshop that stocked it; it might not be a great work, but nor is it Jamie and The Love Guru's Guide to Feng Shui for the Soul.

I getcha. But in my defence, I rarely paw through buckets of shit seeking out individual turds.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:33 PM on July 27, 2008


delmoi writes "So many people just seem to believe whatever they read without first pausing to ask themselves if it's actually true, or what the motivation of the author actually is."

Really? Can you prove it? Why are you telling us this?
posted by orthogonality at 7:37 PM on July 27, 2008


Greg_Ace: I for one didn't mean any criticism of your particular comment, I was just using Huck500's joke to illustrate my point. I also didn't read H500's joke as critical but then I'm not positive I understood it in the first place, so.

PS, I'm only a month older than you but 1500 smaller. What!
posted by skwt at 7:39 PM on July 27, 2008


Totally unrelated: while Googling "gullible reader" for a link to use in a funny response to Really? Can you prove it?, I found this:

"You People are just so Gullible: reader comment from

Posted on: April 1, 2004, 12:10 AM PST

Story: Google to offer gigabyte of free e-mail

Have you poeple ever been in business?
"

Man, people were so gullible in 2004 that they thought Google would offer a free gigabyte of email. They had obviously never been in business.
posted by skwt at 7:48 PM on July 27, 2008


Alls I know is, ever since the majority of my reading switched from books to the computer screen my ADHD has become approximately worse. I have to focus on NOT skimming these days. I've cut out many of my regular news sites and replaced them with books--any books--to try to reverse the process, but as you can see by my presence here that is SLOW GOING.
posted by schroedinger at 8:11 PM on July 27, 2008


Also, my spelling and writing has become noticeably worse. I blame the spelling on automatic spell-checkers.
posted by schroedinger at 8:12 PM on July 27, 2008


Why is all internet reading being discussed en masse? Why is internet reading being conflated with internet writing being conflated with internet discussion?

In all honesty, my suspicion is that getting maximum literary benefit from the somewhat schizophrenic environment of the internet is a more advanced skill than sustained reading, which would be why poor readers are neither getting improving that much in their reading comprehension nor getting that much from what the 'net really has to offer them. It's not that the internet is inherently bad or detrimental, it's that that the young readers the educators in this article are panicking about just aren't ready to make the most of it from an educational perspective, and the educators don't know how to teach it.

It takes a lot of experience to successfully juggle multiple narrative threads, consider biases and look for original sources as you have to do to, say, thread-jump for an hour or two on Wikipedia. And if you're in over your head to start with, well, it's boring as well. I'd write fanfiction too (actually, I think I wrote something when I was exactly Nadia's age about Cho Chang and Harry getting together, before the 4th book came out, but I have since purged all evidence from fanfiction.net - ha!).

There's no Dumbing Down of America story here, just the usual panic based in the lack of understanding about a new medium combined with the ongoing marketing problem of books vs. shiny things. That is a real problem - kids don't read as much as they should, and they weren't before there was an internet - but I think if we came to grips with computers and technology and how readers are using them now, we could take advantage of that to help solve this problem.
posted by bettafish at 8:55 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, and having just finished the article, which I was reading as I wrote my comment, does anyone else want to shake Nadia's mother very gently and tell her she's doing it all wrong?

Web junkies can occasionally be swept up in a book. After Nadia read Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir “Night” in her freshman English class, Ms. Konyk brought home another Holocaust memoir, “I Have Lived a Thousand Years,” by Livia Bitton-Jackson.

Nadia was riveted by heartbreaking details of life in the concentration camps. “I was trying to imagine this and I was like, I can’t do this,” she said. “It was just so — wow.”

Hoping to keep up the momentum, Ms. Konyk brought home another book, “Silverboy,” a fantasy novel. Nadia made it through one chapter before she got engrossed in the Internet fan fiction again.


Well, of course she did, silly! She didn't want to read a fantasy novel - she wanted to read about the Holocaust! Sheesh, it's not like there are a lack of books about that, either ... in fact, there's at least one fantasy novel about the Holocaust, if you really wanted to push fantasy. (Beauty, by Robin McKinley. It's not bad.)

Of course, it's a newspaper article and there are doubtless tons of details it omits, but if the Times' portrayal of the dynamic is even remotely accurate, Ms. Konyk persists in projecting ideas of what Nadia wants to read upon her daughter. Of course that won't work ... because it's work.
posted by bettafish at 9:01 PM on July 27, 2008


I haven't read it yet, but I can guess that the NY Times believes that reading the NY Times is reading, especially if you get a years subscription! Please! OK, just Sunday? No, well could you at least not prop the machine open anymore?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:03 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


skwt: PS, I'm only a month older than you but 1500 smaller. What!

I dunno - something to do with the US-Canada exchange rate, perhaps?
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:09 PM on July 27, 2008


More text flashes before a modern 15-year-old's eyes in a day, than in weeks, maybe months, of her grandparents' lives at the same age.

My emphasis. I was happy to read this article. Actually, I was happy to find that this was a topic brought up for us here, as I have trouble finding the patience to read something that long these days. I had a quick skim to be sure I caught the gist.

I read tonnes every day, but there is something wrong with Internet reading that makes me more and more uneasy about myself every day. I haven't picked up a real book of any substance in years, all my reading is here on MF and the little snippets that get linked from here.

Half the time I am reading impatiently, looking for the hook to hang my own comment on. I couldn't make it through all the previous comments in this thread because I was too eager to have my say. There is something to be said for reading extensively, and non-interactively, but I can't do that anymore. My concentration is shot.

Having mini-bites of interactive text flash before your eyes is not the same as what used to be called "reading". Before the Internet I could read whole books, and I spent time reflecting on them afterwards. Now it's all ephemeral and it's all disposable. Too easy.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:51 AM on July 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


How about some statistics: while this thread is around 5000 words, the linked article is about 3500 words. The trio of feminism threads on MetaTalk a while back were 100,000 words apiece. The still active LongBoing unthread is 220,000 words!
posted by blasdelf at 2:26 AM on July 28, 2008


I find one of the problems with reading is that like eating has been subject to fads and judgment, it's not enough to read, but there's also anguished hand wringers figuratively standing over my stack of library books:

"Oh, dear, three regency romances? Not a bit of research between then. And what's this? Modern chick-lit? A graphic novel? Well, at least it's a translation from the French. Hmm, and I see you have a how to book: '10 Steps to a Clear Complexion'. That's all ads, you know. Wouldn't you rather read 'The Great Gatsby' or maybe 'The Sun Also Rises'? Fine. It's your brain, you poison it with that garbage while I wave 'Crime and Punishment' reproachfully!"

Which is, in so far as I can see, a sort of literary masochism that led my ancestors to batter themselves against 'Pilgrims Progress' or other edifying works, when they'd much rather curl up with some shocking work like 'Jane Eyre'. That which is forbidden decades ago becomes the shibboleth of today, proof that you’re a ‘better’ human being. Bugger off and leave me to my trashy romances, blogs, and internet forums in peace, and I promise I won’t force them on my children as ‘Great Lit’, next generation around.
posted by Phalene at 5:28 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Eh. I'm more interested in the potential for the competition that the Internet provides to improve the quality of other media, including books. Would anyone really argue that all the literary classics are all precisely as long as they need to be? That a lot of them, as good as they are, couldn't benefit from some shortening and tightening? If the shortened attention spans (or, alternatively, lower tolerance for waste) created by the Internet leads to fewer mildly self-indulgent 900-page opuses and more novellas, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. Competition does tend to increase quality.
posted by decoherence at 7:12 AM on July 28, 2008


Charles Petzold describes How to Read a Book:
Reading a book requires a tranquil mind, yet it is not a passive activity. Reading requires a certain amount of determination and concentration to stick with the text and not let your mind wander. Minds tend to wander on their own, but what makes reading more difficult is the presence of distractions, and one of the byproducts of our technologies is a massive increase in distractions....

Here's some advice for successfully reading a book: You need to stay focused, so try to avoid distractions. Avoid multitasking. Avoid task switching. Turn off the TV. Shift positions occasionally so you don't get cramps or backaches. Don't get too comfortable or you might fall asleep....

While reading, it helps to keep a small dictionary nearby if you think you'll need it. But stay away from the computer, even if your intent is just "to look up a little something in Google." Because as soon as your attention turns from the book to the computer, you're no longer reading. Now you're browsing, and it's an entirely different activity.
posted by russilwvong at 1:51 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


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