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.