debaron at uiuc.edu
Sun Jan 27 01:15:34 UTC 2008
There's a new post on the Web of Language:
Is the internet killing literacy, or pumping new life into it?
Every year there’s a sky-is-falling warning about the death of
literacy in America. A 2007 poll found that 27% of American adults
hadn’t read a book in a year. More recently, Caleb Crain, writing in
the New Yorker, cites a worldwide drop-off in reading on the order of
the shrinking of the polar ice caps. Crain documents a 50% decline in
American newspaper readership since 1970 and flat book sales, all of
which foreshadow a world where fewer readers means fewer thinkers,
fewer voters, and far less objectivity.
One computer visionary thinks this growing illiteracy is actually
good for business: Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs rejected a suggestion
that Amazon’s hot new e-book reader, the oddly-named Kindle, which
sold out the day it went on sale, might eat into the iPod’s market,
because – according to Jobs – 40% of Americans don’t read books, and
for him fewer readers apparently equals more listeners and
viewers. . . .
Crain even cites a Michigan State University study showing that
children can improve their reading by going online for as little as
half an hour a day, whether they surf to gather information or
they’re just chatting with friends. He adds this shocker, that “even
visits to pornography Web sites improved academic performance,”
though the study he cites makes no such claim. But Crain also warns
that the “synergies” between surfing and reading will disappear as
the popularity of YouTube moves the web away from text toward
television. . .
Predictors of the end of literacy like Crain, who calls his essay
“The Twilight of the Book,” acknowledge that many computer activities
involve text, but they complain that computer literacy isn’t really
literacy, that email or IM are simply ways to make text approximate
speech, producing a kind of “secondary orality” – a term made popular
by Walter Ong that indicates a kind of modern move to recapture
ancient oral culture – something almost tribal, rather than truly
literate behavior (if taken to its extreme, such a view applied to
drama, a literary art devoted to the approximation of speech, could
push Shakespeare and Eugene O’Neill into the world of soap opera). . . .
read the rest on The Web of Language
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801
read the Web of Language:
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