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People of the Screen

As a freshman in college I am finding myself surrounded in the age of digital technology. I find myself spending hours and hours a day on my computer. Like many other Americans I am spending those hours buying, blogging, surfing, and playing games. According to Christine Rosen of the new Atlantis, the screen is “the busiest port of entry for popular culture and requires navigation skills different from those that helped us master print literacy.” With the age of the internet growing and developing at alarming rates I find myself wondering how traditional printed books have the capacity to compete with the new technology. Computer use is causing us to become increasingly “distractable, impatient, and convenience obsesses, the paperback book just can’t keep up.”

According to the National Endowment for the Arts Americans are reading less often and for shorter periods of time. Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from 20 years earlier. Among 17-year-olds, the percentage of non-readers doubled over a 20-year period, from nine percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004. In addition to that Americans ages 15-24 spend over two hours a day watching TV and less than 7 minutes leisure reading. Keep in mind that these statistics pertain to print reading only. Although we may be reading on the computers, this is causing Americans to read less well. In national reading tests of 12th graders, the scores have fallen significantly below the 1992 reading levels. The rise in technology is having a inverse correlation with our ability to read well. American 15-year-olds ranked fifteenth in average reading scores for 31 industrialized nations, behind Poland, Korea, France, and Canada, among others.

The desire to read on one’s own is something that has to be taught in the home at an early age. As our future parents are reading less and less so will their children.

To me I believe that we are not necessarily reading less but reading differently. We are as Rosen stated, becoming “people of the screen.” According to David A. Bell, a historian from John Hopkins University, the computer was not intended to replace the book, but to allow people to read in a more strategic targeted manner. This allows the reader to be the “master,” not some dead author.

Motoko Rich from the New York Times, tries to tell teachers not to fight with technology but to embrace it, at least when it comes to games. He talks about how pairing a novel with a game brings the world of the book to the reader instead of the other way around. Video games therefore should be brought into the classroom. The only problem is the fact that you can’t make a mistake when reading a book, but you can mess up when playing a game.

In 2007 Amazon released their very own electronic reader called the Kindle. This allows readers to download books in a digital format and read them on a screen wherever they go. Readers who travel enjoy the fact that they can bring dozens of books with them stored all on one device. This device trains readers to read on the specialized screens to reduce eye strain, instead of reading in books. Since leisure reading is something that must be cultivated at a young age, I have to wonder what the Kindle would be like around little kids. I can imagine trying to read a book out loud and having a child distracted by the fact that they are looking a screen and not a book.

I think that the book is not necessarily dying but changing. Books are being transformed into new formats, these involving screens and computers. We may be more impatient than ever, but we are reading and interpreting information faster than ever. This is all being done on the computer.



I think your statement “the book is not necessarily dying but changing” is an accurate way to sum up your argument and I can easily agree. I remember the very first computer my family bought and how much change it brought. I could find anything I wanted to look up, watch or read online and just a couple of minutes rather than having to travel to the library and search through countless books. No doubt since then the computer has become more dominant in America lives which is great, but also like you said, it is lowering the reading of print literature.

What does that mean for the future? Are we no longer going to have libraries and newspapers; will everything be digitized and the eBook be the next iPod? I sure hope not. While eBooks like the Kindle are promising being compact and easily accessible, they are also extremely expensive, each downloadable book costing more than the print copy. As you stated, because of technology-assisted reading, reading scores are down in school and children have no desire to read, either. What ever happened to pulling out a good fairytale or superhero book before tucking your kids in? Are parents in the future going to pull a little Kindle out of their back pocket, download a ‘once-upon-a-time’ digi-book and virtually flip through the pages of a story on a little screen? Not to mention the probable lack of illustrations. I know when I was younger, I loved turning the pages for my parents as they read to me; I would feel as if my children would be missing out on the little things in life if they did not get to do the same.

The book may be changing but I hope it is not for good. There is something about hard copy literature that is intriguing to me- it makes your part of the story; it is up to you to keep turning those pages. Also, as college student, I know I highlight and write all over my textbooks. If hard copy books were eliminated, I think I might have a lot more trouble understanding and studying. Maybe that is another contributing factor to low test scores among adolescents, but unfortunately, I do not think we will ever know for sure. Technology will never go away, but rather become more apparent in our lives. We just have to find a way to incorporate the old ways to keep ourselves balanced.

As the future becomes present and technologies continue to develop, human beings are sure to eventually turn away from the printed book. This cannot be stopped, nor can it be reversed, and like you said we must learn to embrace technology rather than use it as an excuse. When I first read this article, I immediately thought back to the posting about the death of the newspaper by Jill Lepore, and what I have gained from these two articles is that surely we are eventually going to lose sight of physically printed information and turn to digital info on screen. However the real challenge is certainly not making the change, but how exactly we handle the change. We as Americans have always taken on a stereotypical laziness, when viewed from a distance, which puts us at the bottom of standardized testing and common sense information. You hear about the people who can’t locate their state on a map and you wonder how Americans get anything done. However, look at technology today; could our advance in the tech world possibly have been achieved if our intelligence was decreasing. Certainly not. Therefore I agree with your statement that we may not be reading less but reading differently, and it may be evident that through evolution humans are learning to focus on the important things. Not to say that literacy isn’t valuable, but perhaps in our world today it just isn’t necessary to have to be able to read at such speeds and quantities.

I believe that products such as the Kindle are a very good tool to help us make the change form print to digital. Like Rosen says herself, every period of change has an uneasy period of adjustment, and products such as the Kindle and other digital books can help us adapt quicker and more effectively. It is also said to be easier on the eyes. The facts are that over time it no longer becomes practical to carry around a printed book. Technologies are getting mashed together, people use cell phones as TV’s, computers, and soon enough even projectors (see link); why not include the book with the rest of them?

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