Think you know the answer? Don’t be so sure. (And what if reading is NOT fundamental?)

Those who present contrary views are sometimes written off as cantankerous cranks. But with accepted formulas so regularly being discredited, those who stand against the grain might be our truth tellers and prophets.

What if, for instance, rather than lamenting the decline in serious reading among young people, we embraced their ability to learn more and learn faster through quick-paced technology that encourages multi-tasking? What if books are, like newspapers, yesterday’s news, and that’s okay?

Jeff Jarvis, an outspoken champion of new, hyperlocal and social media, asks simply, “Who says our way is the right way?”

Reacting to Matt Richtel’s long piece in Sunday’s New York Times, Growing up digital, wired for distraction, Jarvis says that the apparent inability of youngsters to make it through a book is not, prima facie, a problem, only a challenge:

Is this new generation distracted or advanced? How can they best learn? How can they teach? What tools can we use today besides books? What new opportunities do all their tools present? That’s what educators should be asking.

The Times sets up its piece in a predictable fashion: “On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?” We quickly learn Singh’s choice.

On YouTube, Singh explains, “you can get a whole story in six minutes. A book takes so long.”

The Times report, which cites studies on the use of technology by young people, is largely displeased with this. “Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body,” said Dr. Michael Rich of Harvard Medical School and the Center on Media and Child Health. “But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.”

Back to Jarvis:

A group of Danish academics say we are passing through the other side of what they wonderfully call the Gutenberg Parenthesis, leaving the structured, serial, permanent, authored, controlled era of text and returning, perhaps, to what came before the press: a time when communication and content cross, when process dominates product, when knowledge is distributed by people passing it around, when we remix it along the way, when we are more oral and aural. …

Gutenberg scholar Elizabeth Eisenstein reminds us that for 50 years after the invention of the press, we continued to put old wine in this new cask, replicating scribal fonts, content, and models. That’s what’s happening now: We are trying to fit our old world into the new one that is emerging. We’re assuming the old way is the right way.

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One response to “Think you know the answer? Don’t be so sure. (And what if reading is NOT fundamental?)

  1. Only a few years ago I was looking with discouragement at my two grandchildren (11 & 13) not reading enough books. I am now spending the winter 2500 km away from them and exchanging ideas on a regular basis with them. SMS with the elder one and chats on MSN with the younger one.

    And when they e-mail me the links to their school projects, I realise that they read and write much more then I at their age.

    Still, when I visit with them, I get frustrated at the amount of time that the yonger one spends playing online. We older people are slow learner in today’s world as we are stuck in our old Gutenberg paradigm. ;-)

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