does ubiquity destroy appreciation

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A couple of weeks ago, I was out of town and feeling rather crummy with a head-cold. In a moment of desperation for a Monday blog topic, I threw out a plea for ideas, and Charles Wiggins sent me a link to a Wall Street Journal book review of the book The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein. The review was Can U Read Kant? by David Robinson.

Obviously, not many can.

On the surface, the information glut inspired by the Internet seems like a reader’s utopia that would inspire young people to embrace books and reading, but Robinson points to a NAEA study that shows young people spend only about seven minutes a day reading a book. Worse yet, the reading and comprehension levels of teenagers have dropped significantly. The report states that “Only about a third of high school seniors read at a proficient level, a 13 percent decline since 1992. ‘And proficiency is not a high standard,’ Gioia said. ‘We’re not asking them to be able to read Proust in the original. We’re talking about reading the daily newspaper.’”

Without engaging in books and newspapers, younger people are losing their ability to assimilate and interpret basic information. A lot of this has to do with the way we read online. Young people don’t understand how to draw new ideas from the information they read, because they don’t fully understand the information they’re reading.

Jakob Nielsen wrote a 1997 Alertbox column on How Users Read on the Web. Nielsen points out that people “rarely read Web pages word for word; instead they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.” Out of seventy-nine percent of his test users, only sixteen percent actually read web pages word for word.

If you think that article is a little dated, use your information retrieval skills and Google this phrase: reading vs scanning online articles. There is a whole host of online articles on the subject.

So while young people are spending a great deal of time online where they can find information, they’re not actually reading the information they’re locating, they’re scanning it. Contrast how you read online versus how you read a newspaper article or novel. The attention span necessary to read a book is much greater than the attention span necessary to read an online article.

People raised prior to the Internet’s information explosion learned to read word for word whereas younger generations, who essentially acquire their information online, learned to scan brief blog posts or articles rather than read them word for word. So the problem becomes not so much the ubiquity of the information, but the way in which we read and assess the information available to us.

Adults need to force children to unplug from the Internet. My own daughter developed a deep appreciation for books and the newspapers, because I didn’t allow her to waste hours online. This same daughter, who sometimes has the attention span of a gnat, still sits for hours reading books for pleasure.

Is she a college graduate with a PhD? No, but she can understand the world around her and doesn’t formulate her world-view from misleading sound bites masquerading as news. As a young adult, she reads the newspaper every morning and is a voracious reader of novels. I suppose the most important thing is that she understands how to evaluate and utilize the information around her.

The ubiquity of online information only destroys our appreciation of books and newspapers when we allow the Internet to become the sole source of our information. E-books, computers in the classroom, and the Internet all have their places in the learning and home environments. However, we also need to unplug and make room for books and newspapers too.

What about you? Do you believe the ubiquity of information online has destroyed our appreciation for books and newspapers? Did your parents and grandparents have a deep appreciation for both books and newspapers?


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12 Responses to does ubiquity destroy appreciation

  1. Kelly Bryson says:

    This is all about the crit you got, isn’t it? lol

  2. I don’t know if the ubiquity so much destroyed appreciation of books and newspapers so much as supplanted it, especially newspapers. The news cycle and social media (Twitter especially) has a lot to do with that.
    I was never much of a newspaper reader (frankly I found the yearly subscription outweighed the quality of news in the areas I’ve lived) .
    Books are another story altogether. Everyone in my family–my wife, mother, father, brother, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins–is a fan of reading books and I hope to continue that with my daughter.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Jonathan, the idea of social media supplanting newspapers and books is interesting.

      With your daughter: I think if you provide the interest in reading, your daughter will learn to enjoy it too. Mine certainly did. I was reading to her when she was an infant, and she’s always loved books.

  3. tikiman1962 says:

    (1) Texting has created an abbreviated language and, as such, does not allow for the elaboration of the thought process. Dissertation is reduced to a few characters; depth of thought becomes transient. Most people (age groups aside) prefer information force-fed and would rather not spend the time to ingest and digest information that would lead to a creative thought.

    (2) The MOST gratifying piece of information in this post is the commentary on your own daughter. When push comes to shove, it is not the technology that is at fault but perhaps our wholesale acceptance of it. Parenting (of the kind from my generation) is still the KEY resource to developing young minds. To that end, congratulations!

    • Teresa says:

      Actually someone mentioned to me today texting as one of the culprits. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and offer your thoughts on the subject.

  4. I didn’t scan this article! *smiling*
    As always, thought provoking stuff here.

    I wonder if schools still assign books and ask for book reports? Is there still summer reading? I read to my son every night when he was young, and though he says he doesn’t read much, what he means is he doesn’t read fiction much — he reads philosophy and science and etc.

    I give my granddaughter and step grandkids books books books, even before they are old enough to read .

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Kat, There are still summer reading programs and book reports, but those are like a forced march. There are too many distractions with Internet and peer-to-peer social networks (which are only as intelligent as the smartest person in the network and with teens, that can be pretty dismal at times).

      I’m like you, I give books to young people in our family. 😉

  5. lawrenceez says:

    What an excellent article. I fully agree with the points raised. Online simply isn’t the same as text, although the internet has so much to offer. As a musician, I went through an intensive, exacting training, so I tend to prefer detail and discipline. I also love books.

    Hope this doesn’t make me seem too old-fashioned.

    • Teresa says:

      Musicians and mathematicians are all well attuned to detail, Lawrence, that’s a very good point. I don’t believe younger people are paying as much attention to detail and that’s why we’re also seeing scores plummet in math and science in addition to reading.

  6. Terri says:

    I grew up in a family of voracious readers; I taught myself to read shortly after starting kindergarten because I saw my parents and all my dad’s family reading all the time and didn’t want to be left out! My younger cousins and niece and nephew didn’t seem as fanatical about reading when they were growing up but this was before the internet was widespread. I think in their case it was probably due to having more TV and videos to watch.

    Boredom can be a great incentive to start reading, too!

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks Terri. I think you’ve hit on what Charles was talking about in his Facebook comment: that our parents and grandparents had a much deeper connection to books and reading.

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