We have abrogated responsibility of our children to electronic media, allowing them to suckle for hours at the glass teat, to endlessly mash game controllers, and to wander through the internet with little to no impulse control. We then assuage our collective guilt by claiming this undisciplined intellectual response to be the new literacy. If we can claim that falling reading scores merely indicate a change in HOW children read, we might feel better about ourselves as a society. By all means, let’s test children on their ability to think like a pinball, to pick out the most obvious points in a text, and to reduce communication to its most basic elements. Forget about critical thinking skills developed by deep reading. Let’s abandon a self-disciplined approach to intellectual study. Instead, we can reduce ourselves to our most primary strands of thought and fulfill Taylor’s concept of sacrificing the individual for the system ( warning—at the time Taylor wrote, the system represented sweat shops , child labor, and unbridled exploitation of labor).
In an essay in the Atlantic Monthly, Nicholas Carr makes makes an interesting case about the affects of prolonged exposure to the internet in his essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“. Carr states: ” When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.” Carr believes, and I agree with him, that ” our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged” with the sort of scanning that most people consider online reading.
At a convention panel in Michigan, Tamora Pierce, a writer of young adult fantasy, during a discussion of declining literacy, embraced the idea that children weren’t reading less, but rather they were reading more online and reading differently. She seemed to feel this move from a traditional reading style was a good thing and that perhaps it was a liberating reaction from the pedagogy where, in her words, children were only being taught to read the works of “old white men.”
If the internet is truly affecting us at a neurological level and if Generation ADHD is losing the ability to remain focused on longer works of literature and to operate at deep levels of thinking, then we need to address this as a society head on and not find ways to accept decline by redefining it to make it palatable.