I’ve been thinking a bit about the current state of literacy in the wake of reading the Times article I posted yesterday, and I’m very troubled. On one level I’m perfectly fine with the idea of on-line reading skills replacing the previous printed page paradigm for some people. They are two totally different skill sets and I don’t believe one is necessarily superior to the other, and if the end result is more people reading then that’s great.
But I am worried that what’s going to get lost eventually are our current ideas of narrative and story. On-line reading is great at promoting critical thinking and research skills, but I find it also tends to distribute a person’s focus in ways that are anathema to the ways one traditional reads. And maybe this is something harmful in the long run.
One of the ongoing theories to come out of Readercon is the idea that storytelling is something ingrained in the wiring of our brains. Cold facts cannot convince a person of a new idea nearly as well as a good story can (yes this is the faith vs. science argument). For another example just try to tell someone about your day by merely listing your itinerary without embellishing it a little. Those little details change your life into a story, and are the only way to really hold another person’s interest.
We need narrative in our lives, and that is what gets stripped out when we bounce around like we do while web surfing. And if the theory about stories and how we think is true then maybe this way of reading could prove to be outright harmful.