Reading in a “Wired” World

Here’s a trusim: People who have grown up in a wired world view books and reading differently than people like me, whose initial encounter with the wired world came in adulthood. (*1) Put another way, childhood exposure to the internet is having a profound impact on the way human beings learn and how they use reading to learn.

The debate about this generation gap and what it means for the future is fascinating and important. I’ve been following it for a long time, probably because of my experience as a grad student and then as a professor:

I started teaching college undergrads in the late 1980s. Back then, almost none of my students used computers (Often I was the only person in the classroom who owned and used a computer.) By the late 1990s, however, nearly all of my students were using computers and most had tapped into a mysterious entity known as “the internet.” (Mysterious to me because I had no idea what it was or how to use it.)

By the time I left academia in 1999, I was just barely figuring out how to use email — but I knew that the “wired” world had already provoked a distinct generation gap between people like me, who encountered it first as an adult, and people who’d grown up with it.

Anyway, the New York Times is running a series on this topic and the debate about it. The first part provides an excellent summary of the issues involved. Check out the “Related” sidebar, which contains links to more information. Absolutely worth reading.

It’s worth reading just to ponder David McCullough’s comment that “learning” is “acquired mainly from books.” Huh?? What the FUCK did he think all those Greeks, to name one example, were doing back then? Ya know… Back when there wasn’t a Barnes and Noble on every corner and the printing press was still more than a millenia away. When “books” were accessible only to a tiny, and I mean minuscule, portion of the earth’s people. No one learned anything? The hell, you say……….

Anyway, in my opinion, not entirely formed from books and therefore possibly a dumbass opinion, is that the debate over the meaning and nature of learning, reading, and books is one of the most important topics of our time. And this Times series provides a good entree into the issues.

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*1: I’m in my fifties. I started using a PC in 1984, but I was already 32. I was in my early forties when I first encountered the “world wide web” and the internet. My experience, I know, is very very different than someone who has always known the “wired” world. But then, I’m so old that I grew up with only three TV stations. Hell, I still remember when my family got its first TV set!

2 thoughts on “Reading in a “Wired” World

  1. Don’t you find it curious that as I type this (Sunday evening) this is the No. 1 emailed story at nytimes.com?

  2. Heh heh.The irony was not lost on me. And I was pleased that the story climbed so quickly to the “most emailed” and “most read” lists at the Times. I want people to think about this stuff!What I do find interesting is how much of the debate over the read/not read focuses on the BOOK, the physical object. Many people (including lots of writers I know) think that “reading” can only be done using a physical book. (I hasten to add that I’m not one of those people. I want Amazon to hurry up with its improved version of the Kindle!)

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