The New York Times has devoted a four-web-page article to the question, “Online, R U Really Reading?”
The Con side is represented by Dana Gioia of the National Endowment for the Arts, a onetime American poet laureate who has already made it into my mental quotation file twice:
- “Poetry is the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning.”
- “Aesthetic pleasure needs no justification, because a life without such pleasure is one not worth living.”
Gioia says of online reading: “What we are losing in this country and presumably around the world is the sustained, focused, linear attention developed by reading.” He adds, “I would believe people who tell me that the Internet develops reading if I did not see such a universal decline in reading ability and reading comprehension on virtually all tests.”
The Times supplies some pretty convincing circumstantial evidence via one 15-year-old whose reading tastes run toward online user-generated stories such as, “My absolutely, perfect normal life … ARE YOU CRAZY? NOT!”
But on the Pro side comes those “Web evangelists” who keep repeating, “At least they’re reading!” And one expert the Times quoted opted for a pro-diversity argument: “It takes a long time to read a 400-page book. In a tenth of the time [the Internet allows you to] cover a lot more of the topic from different points of view.”
I’m more sympathetic to the middle-ground view represented by one Zachary Sims, 18, who likes to read books but then discuss them with other people online. He also has a skill that I find people of generations previous to mine don’t have: he can find information quickly on the Internet.
Like any new information medium, the Internet carries benefits and pitfalls. The medium itself carries a message. We netizens should not be naive about that message.