Sunday, July 27, 2008

R U Really Reading Online?

The New York Times has a very interesting article which tries to define the difference between reading a book and reading online...and which is more important. One camp is of the opinion that reading books is what counts and that whatever is read online doesn't matter. Of course the other camp believes that reading online counts, too. I can see wisdom in both, which is undoubtedly why I never did well in high school debate class.

Physically picking up a book, opening it, and reading it is important. You're training your mind to focus, to interpret, to think. If you do it often enough, you'll actually develop an attention span that's longer than two seconds' duration. If you read 600-page hardbacks, you'll also gain some strong wrist muscles.

Technology is a part of our lives, whether we want it to be or not. For bloggers, it would be a safe assumption that we do want it. The Internet brings us unlimited knowledge at the pressing of a few buttons. But how much of that knowledge is well-written?

The pro-online reading camp tells us that children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia find it much easier to read online. There are more graphics. Low-income children who have no access to books at home but who do have access to computers at school read better than those low-income children with access to neither. Children who show no inclination to pick up a book will willingly go online and read page after page of fan fiction. Isn't it better that they are indeed reading, regardless of the source?

The problem with this is discernment. Children who do their reading online seem less capable of discerning fact from fiction. If it's on the Internet, it must be true. As far as that goes, how many of us know adults with the same problem? I think both are important. Making a commitment to pick up a book and read it does good things to your brain, and the more familiar a person is with computers and the Internet, the better off he will be, especially with the ever-expanding range of jobs in the technology field. The rub--discernment--should be dealt with both at home and at school. Children are sponges, and it's always a good idea to teach children what sorts of "liquids" they'll be soaking up.

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