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Screen Literacy
January 16, 2009 9:22 PM   Subscribe

People of the Screen : "Digital literacy’s advocates increasingly speak of replacing, rather than supplementing, print literacy. What is “reading” anyway, they ask, in a multimedia world like ours? We are increasingly distractible, impatient, and convenience-obsessed—and the paper book just can’t keep up. Shouldn’t we simply acknowledge that we are becoming people of the screen, not people of the book?"
posted by dhruva (31 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
tl;dr.

Cn some1 summarize this 4 me?
posted by orthogonality at 9:31 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


"People of the Screen".. sounds like a dystopian movie title.. like "Planet of the Apes".. in the future, society has degenerated and no longer reads.
posted by stbalbach at 9:31 PM on January 16, 2009


I read that entire New Atlantis article in just a few minutes using an RSVP screen reader (a particular Firefox extension).
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:36 PM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is the third "best sci-fi film" in... the future!
posted by Dumsnill at 9:39 PM on January 16, 2009


give me an old dusty book that I can take into bed with me
posted by infini at 9:44 PM on January 16, 2009


Ugh. There's nothing more I hate than hearing about some interesting thing on the internet, and finding out it's a damn video. I can read about four times as fast as someone can speak, so having to listen to some twit read something out slowly... and it is always slowly... just makes me want to scream.

Video has its place, but the video content has to be visually interesting or relevant.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:46 PM on January 16, 2009 [14 favorites]


Absolutely not. I stopped cable service five years ago, due to lack of ability to pay. It was stunning how much time the glass teat occupied. Harlan Ellison was correct when he said TV doesn't suck, it is sucked.
posted by Mblue at 9:51 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


When watching recordings -in my childhood - of people debating in the late 50s/60s/early 70s I remember thinking: "Man, people must have heard slowly back then."
posted by Dumsnill at 9:55 PM on January 16, 2009


I agree with a number of the criticisms she makes of 'screen reading', but when she gets into long paragraphs like this I roll my eyes.

"The reason you can’t “screw up” a Dostoevsky novel is that you must first submit yourself to the process of reading it—which means accepting, at some level, the author’s authority to tell you the story. You enter the author’s world on his terms, and in so doing get away from yourself. Yes, you are powerless to change the narrative or the characters, but you become more open to the experiences of others and, importantly, open to the notion that you are not always in control. In the process, you might even become more attuned to the complexities of family life, the vicissitudes of social institutions, and the lasting truths of human nature."
posted by radgardener at 10:00 PM on January 16, 2009


Ugh. There's nothing more I hate than hearing about some interesting thing on the internet, and finding out it's a damn video.

Lawrence Lessig is one of the worst offenders in this respect. He makes these slow, ponderous presentations where the only visual content is boring power-point style nonsense.
posted by delmoi at 10:04 PM on January 16, 2009


"Americans ages 15 to 24 spend only between 7 and 10 minutes per day reading voluntarily; and two thirds of college freshmen read for pleasure for less than an hour per week or not at all."

Sorry, I don't think that's true. If you're measuring reading strictly in terms of printed books, maybe that's true. But I think most people do as least as much reading online as they used to do in print. I read maybe 10 printed books last year, but I'm sure I read the equivalent of several times that amount of text online.

Not only that, but it's a much more diverse set of reading. One minute I'm reading, say, a tech blogger from New York City. The next minute I'm reading a science article from Britain. And next it's a joker trolling with copypasta on 4chan from god knows where. I'm sure my reading has diversified to a huge degree from having access to the Net. Sure, it's not in neatly defined chunks like "a book". But it's still reading.

Incidentally, I find it very hard to read printed material at home anymore. I have to escape the distraction of the computer by reading in a park, at a coffee shop, or during a commute to a job to get any substantial printed reading done. And I'm from a generation where reading online only came about in force when I was about, oh, 17 years old, so I feel guilty that I'm not doing "real" reading of books as much as I should.

tl; dr: reading's still around, just in a different form
posted by wastelands at 10:04 PM on January 16, 2009


Summary:

Neoconservative luddite paper the New Atlantis shouts "Print is d00med!". Cherry picking several studies in different areas to show that reading on the Internet will turn people into Eloi like vid heads, to be easily devoured by the paper loving Morlocks. He then continues with some elitist arguments about how much more awesomer Daniel Steele is than the programmers at Rockstar, because hey, she makes more.

Then it goes into a brief aside where the author tries a Kindle, and then gives the old saw that it doesn't FEEEEEEL like a real book. After a "get off my lawn" jeremiad about them there young kids their ipods and their zip bam video games (Children giggling in the library! The horror!) he notes the fact that children don't like to read difficult books is a recent trend.

Overall, it has some good points about how the medium of a text can alter how, and how well the message is received, but it's surrounded by a cultural elitism that never stirred while the lower classes destroyed their minds with television, but when something shakes the ivory walls, it must not stand.

I firmly believe that the shift to the digital transmission of culture and learning does contain negatives. The glut of information, and the low signal to noise ratio, prioritize rapid skimming and dismissal of information if it doesn't meet criteria. This can lessen the opportunities for deep study, but then again it allows for knowledge about a much wider range of topics, with depth of it's own, as metafilter shows.

Personal bias: I lived in a small town in a flyover state with a one room library whose budget for new material was meager. He would give me that for the riches of the Internet. For that, fuck him.
posted by zabuni at 10:05 PM on January 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Shouldn’t we simply acknowledge that we are becoming people of the screen, not people of the book?"

"We" were never "a people of the book" in the first place, unless "book" here is just being used as a lazy synonym for "printed language."
posted by regicide is good for you at 10:07 PM on January 16, 2009


Bell cautions, “You are the master, not some dead author. And that is precisely where the greatest dangers lie, because when reading, you should not be the master”; you should be the student. “Surrendering to the organizing logic of a book is, after all, the way one learns,” he observes.

I guess we'll replace books with puzzle games, then? Myst and Tomb Raider have pretty powerful organizing logic.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:16 PM on January 16, 2009


It was stunning how much time the glass teat occupied.

I got rid of my TV in 1999 and watch things on the computer via Torrent or whatever. This way viewing becomes an "event", something I plan ahead for, that I choose carefully, like choosing a book. Not a way to combat boredom. Nothing wrong with TV, just how it's used.
posted by stbalbach at 10:16 PM on January 16, 2009


Bell cautions, “You are the master, not some dead author. And that is precisely where the greatest dangers lie, because when reading, you should not be the master”; you should be the student. “Surrendering to the organizing logic of a book is, after all, the way one learns,” he observes.

I guess we'll replace books with roleplaying games, then? Final Fantasy et al. have rather powerful organizing logic, in the form of combat and leveling systems. And they don't let you skip ahead in the text.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:17 PM on January 16, 2009


I was in elementary school right before the advent of the internet. I went to libraries, and I sure did read books.

Educational books for children. As thin as anything, full of summarized one-line facts, superficial summaries, and about 15 years old. The only book in the library on that subject. Oh yeah, that sure was fantastic. I really went in-depth with my research.
posted by radgardener at 10:20 PM on January 16, 2009


superficial summaries of events* doh.
posted by radgardener at 10:21 PM on January 16, 2009


where's McLuhan when you really need him?
posted by infini at 10:30 PM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wait, didn't the National Endowment of the Arts just say that fiction reading among adults is up? So perhaps the book isn't dead, after all.
posted by gemmy at 10:53 PM on January 16, 2009


Gemmy: It's an encouraging report, for sure, but the question is whether it will persist, or whether it's a blip (as some people suggest in the article).

Self plug - I wrote about pretty much this same topic in a blog post called The Long Decline of Reading (before that new report came out...)
posted by adrianhon at 1:09 AM on January 17, 2009


Ugh. There's nothing more I hate than hearing about some interesting thing on the internet, and finding out it's a damn video. I can read about four times as fast as someone can speak, so having to listen to some twit read something out slowly... and it is always slowly... just makes me want to scream.

Yes. You can't really skim a video and then decide to read it more carefully... it's less interactive, despite buzzwords of the "multimedia" era.
posted by Foosnark at 1:45 AM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


not just that, my pet peeve with videos is that if there is any interesting content one can't link to the text or quote the 'author' elsewhere...
posted by infini at 1:54 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Kevin Kelly essay is twenty-two times better than the Christine Rosen essay. No, thirty-seven times better. Well, however many more times better, it is better.
posted by cgc373 at 2:30 AM on January 17, 2009


Text will always be around, is useful, its *FAST*, its accurate in a way video can never be. Whether that text is mainly reproduced in smudges of ink on pulped wood, or as electrical charges in slightly impure silicon is another question. But text will persist until we discover a means of directly putting data into our brains, and maybe then as well.

As others have pointed out, the essay is a vastly superior medium for transmitting information than the youtube video. I flat out refuse to watch so-called "informational" videos on youtube, they're invariably shallow and not only that but they're also usually really bad videos with low production values, etc. And, of course, they waste my time because I can read so much more quickly than the twit in the videos can read his script aloud.

Video is fantastic for many things, its probably the single biggest step forward in entertainment since the invention of recorded music. But its not good for transmitting complex thoughts. You can have, for example, a video of someone reading the US Constitution aloud, but its not got the utility of the text. Not only can a person read faster than they can watch a video, but they can easily skip back and forth in the text, check to see if what they thought was a bad argument really makes sense or not, etc. Video can convey information that you can't get from text, video of (for example) Israel shelling the Gaza strip is going to carry stuff that an essay on the topic can't. But mostly what it conveys is emotion, not information.

Put simply, video (regardless of how its stored) is an inherently analog medium, as such its fantastic for many applications, but really lousy for others. Text is digital in the sense that its precise, video not so much. Text can be genuinely informational, video is, at most, infotainment. And that's not inherently a bad thing, it just means that you aren't going to get your textbook as a video, nor should you expect it.

I like both. I read not just for information, but also for entertainment. I watch video both for infotainment and pure entertainment. But, again, you can't put a legal code, or a treaty, or a contract, or any of a million other things into video format. If you tried no one would use them, they'd want to read the transcripts.

Actual books on paper may not survive, I suspect that people like me who enjoy the feel of books as artifacts will keep at least a luxury press in business, but I can easily see a *good* ebook reader replacing print for most people. The kindle doesn't fit that bill, nor does anything else on the market. I use my smartphone for casual reading today simply because its more convenient than carrying around a paperback, it isn't great but it works ok.
posted by sotonohito at 5:00 AM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actual books on paper may not survive, I suspect that people like me who enjoy the feel of books as artifacts will keep at least a luxury press in business, but I can easily see a *good* ebook reader replacing print for most people.

aah, the good old days when i'd pick up copies for Rs 5 and 10 (10 and 20 cents USD)

Many of the street-side booksellers are migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, India's poorest states, and are almost illiterate in English. Yet they're surprisingly sophisticated where it counts. They master enough English to memorize a list of significant authors and identify them by their book covers; they're also highly attuned to the tastes of the Indian reading public. Diwakar, a 19-year-old book-hawker, rattles off the names of his top sellers with ease: "Barbara Taylor Bradford, Sidney Sheldon, John Grisham" and, of course, "Harry Potter." They also know that pirated editions of The Joy of Sex are always in high demand, as are copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Says street-side seller Vinod Jain, 21, who always keeps Hitler's book in stock: "I don't know why they want it, but it's a red-hot seller."
posted by infini at 5:42 AM on January 17, 2009


I agree with a number of the criticisms she makes of 'screen reading', but when she gets into long paragraphs like this I roll my eyes.

"The reason you can’t “screw up” a Dostoevsky novel is that you must first submit yourself to the process of reading it—which means accepting, at some level, the author’s authority to tell you the story. You enter the author’s world on his terms, and in so doing get away from yourself. Yes, you are powerless to change the narrative or the characters, but you become more open to the experiences of others and, importantly, open to the notion that you are not always in control. In the process, you might even become more attuned to the complexities of family life, the vicissitudes of social institutions, and the lasting truths of human nature."


OK, I'll bite. What's wrong with this paragraph? Do you object to the content, or the writing style? Because this sounds to me like a pretty succinct summary of how fiction works, written or otherwise.
posted by spoobnooble at 6:34 AM on January 17, 2009


Technology can enhance our lives when it makes sense. Too much technology today is because-we-can, not because-we-need-it. But is technology to blame because people don't read?

When I was a kid, my dad always had a paperback going, and I picked up the habit. Once or twice a month, we would hit all the Goodwill/Salvation Army-type stores for new arrivals. Back then, you could get a paper grocery bag full of old, wonderful smelly paperbacks for $3. As a fan of science fiction, I grew up to Asimov and Heinlein, Bester and Clarke, van Vogt and Sturgeon.

Fast forward to the present. About a year ago, I got a cheap mp3 player for music but made the mistake of listening to a book-on-tape. I now go through 1-2 audio books a week and can't remember the last paper book I read. A masterful reader, like the great Frank Muller, brings the skills of an actor to bear in telling the story, in collaboration with the words of the author.

I wouldn't care about any of this if I hadn't developed a love of reading, stories and words from the example set by my dad. Too many never develop this love, which is the main reason people read less today.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 7:00 AM on January 17, 2009


Spoobnooble - I don't like that paragraph either primarily because I dislike paragraphs that are more conversational and stop-start (commas separating unneeded clauses like "at some level" or simple words "importantly", etc.) I can see from reading it how someone would be irritated by all the extra, unnecessary asides.

This entire paragraph could be chopped down a third and make just as much sense.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:07 AM on January 17, 2009


When watching recordings -in my childhood - of people debating in the late 50s/60s/early 70s I remember thinking: "Man, people must have heard slowly back then."
posted by Dumsnill at 12:55 AM on January 17 [+] [!]


Yeah, what's with everyone talking 150 MPH on TV? Many of them can't even get the words out. It's particularly noticeable on cable news, led by those clowns at Faux News but I hear it on other channels, too.
posted by etaoin at 7:12 AM on January 17, 2009


My high school students were quick to point out, when given a brief summary of this essay - and essays making this same point have been glutting the internet and the print media for the last few months, especially - that storytelling and information-gathering are two very different activities and this should be acknowledged by those who decry the imminent death of the book.

As a Lit teacher, and an old guy whose family worshipped The Book (in general: not the Bible), I too bemoan the lack of kids reading for fun.

However, my daughter, who almost never reads for fun, is still very literate thanks to public school, much conversation with parents and intelligent friends, and the Internet. In an assignment for school responding to "A Modest Proposal," she wrote a satiric piece from the perspective of an Englishman wanting to go into the child-meat business, using words like "daft," that was much better than I could have done at her age.

I love books, but they could be doomed, or, as one of my students suggested, become artifacts: thus: libraries would become museums.
posted by kozad at 5:25 PM on January 17, 2009


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