Is reading online actually reading? An article in the New York Times recently addressed that very subject, profiling the reading habits of teenagers and their parents. Many educators are concerned that kids would rather read off a glowing screen than dead trees. What kind of effect is this having on the ability to concentrate and absorb information? Even some adults are wondering if Google making us stupid.
The truth is that the generation that grew up with the internet has different information processing and communication skills and preferences. They are digital natives who are hunters and gathers of information from multiple sources, technologically adept creatures who then want to mix and remix what they’ve discovered into their own stories. Rather than being engrossed in the linear narrative of a dead author, they want to collaborate with their peers on fluid, hypertextual adventures, such as fan fiction.
Yet, let me rise to the defense of the novel. And not just because it’s an important art form that needs to be preserved. Novels teach essential skills, such as concentration, careful reading (not skimming web pages) and the ability to frame and express a story. These are vital for everyone, whether you’re a college student writing a paper or an executive making a presentation. The New York Times article has a great example on the importance of reading novels:
Literacy specialists are just beginning to investigate how reading on the Internet affects reading skills. A recent study of more than 700 low-income, mostly Hispanic and black sixth through 10th graders in Detroit found that those students read more on the Web than in any other medium, though they also read books. The only kind of reading that related to higher academic performance was frequent novel reading, which predicted better grades in English class and higher overall grade point averages.
So here’s to the novel! Not only is reading Hemingway, Faulker or Fitzgerald a good way to spend an afternoon, it will also make you smarter.