The clash of literacies

I recently read an article (online) from the New York Times called “The Medium Is The Medium” by David Brooks

This was a really interesting article in that it discussed the growing debate about two forms of literacy that we have at present, namely the book culture and the internet culture.

Brooks puts forward a powerful argument that is very much influenced by Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows” (see )

This book puts forward the argument that the internet has led to a generation of children who are unable to interact with writing in the deep way that the book culture (pre-internet) did.

In the  (ironically)  internet introduction that I refer to above is the following statement in support of the book: ” Is Google making us stupid? When Nicholas Carr posed that question in a celebrated Atlantic essay, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?”

There is a lot in this argument that needs to be discussed. For myself I see the new internet literacy as being in its infancy. I am aware that the first printed Bibles were available to only the few and that the masses could not read them. The book culture developed along with the technology to produce more and more books costing less and less and went alongside the state’s need to be educate children  to at least read and write.

I grew up in a book culture and was fortunate to have an education  (based on the fortuity of having passed one exam when I was eleven) that introduced me to the hierarchy of writing so that I was able to be influenced and moved by the words of the “masters” as Brooks puts it.

I am aware though that many people did not have access to these “higher” works. That the book culture was also the magazine and newspaper culture (and that there were divisions in terms of the quality of reading within these). I do not think there was a golden age of scholarship but do appreciate that the ability to interact at length with a well written book is certainly something that led to improvement in my mind and my ability to cope with the higher order skills that I would need to pass the exams that would get me into a university and prepare me for a middle class life.

Brooks is right in saying that the internet is not hierarchical but egalitarian. It gives access to millions of words on a regular basis. It is like having the largest possible library in the world available through your laptop, P.C. or even iPhone.

It does have a tendency at the moment to further the skills of fast skimming, of multi-tasking of lack of depth. But it will develop and our ability to use it and interact with it will also develop.

The teaching of internet literacy must surely be a high priority in our schools, colleges and universities. It is to David Brooks’ credit that he has written this article and has extended the debate. Hopefully, in my small way, I have also added to the debate and would welcome any of your opinions.

About malbell

I am a retired Teaching and Learning Consultant. Previously I was a Primary school headteacher and deputy headteacher. I enjoy reading, doing MOOCs and learning new things.
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