You Are Terrible At Reading Things Online


Mark Bauerlein, scourge of Internet users and people born after 1965, recently wrote a book called The Dumbest Generation. Since then, he's been on a one-man jihad against Kids These Days and Their Cellular Phones and Computers.

This week, in The Chronicle of Higher Education he declares that "Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind." When people read things online, according to a newish study, their eyes move in a "F" shape, reading all the way across at the top of the page, but moving pretty much vertically down the left margin by the time they get to the bottom.

This technique is none-too-effective for understanding "a dense argument, a Modernist poem, a long political tract, and other texts that require steady focus and linear attention." Fair enough. But the online reading mode Bauerlein describes has students "race[ing] across the surface, dicing language and ideas into bullets and graphics, seeking what they already want," which doesn't sounds like the end of civilization to me. It sounds like a complementary skill to settling in with a dense text. He writes:

"Last year when I required students in a literature survey course to obtain obituaries of famous writers without using the Internet, they stared in confusion. Checking a reference book, asking a librarian, and finding a microfiche didn't occur to them. So many free deliveries through the screen had sapped that initiative."

That's akin to saying, "I asked students to make toast without a toaster, but building a fire and finding a long stick to hold the bread didn't occur to them. The toaster had sapped their initiative."

I think Bauerlein makes a moderate case at the end of the article for carving out a space in educational environments for careful reading on dead tree, but I'm not sure, because by the end of his article, I was 
















For more, see Nick Gillespie go head to head with Bauerlein at reason.tv.