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Monday, August 11, 2008

Attention Luddites: The Internet is Here and It is Not Going Away

A couple weeks ago, I read an interesting article in the New York Times about literacy in the wake of the internet age. The central question of the article is whether reading online is as valuable to building reading comprehension skills as reading in the more traditional way.

The article raises some interesting points, on both sides of the issue, including referencing the discouraging report on national reading trends, To Read or Not To Read; A Question of National Consequence, that was published by the National Endowment for the Arts in November 2007. I call the report "discouraging" because it documents a marked decline in the reading habits and skills of young Americans in just the last 15 years. The full report can be viewed in PDF form here, and it is fascinating.

It seems only natural that experts would be looking to the rise and expansion of the internet as a factor in the decline of reading comprehension skills. As pleasure reading amongst children decreases and time spent on the computer increases, it's fair to ask the questions, what kind of reading is being done on the internet, and what is its value?

The New York Times article profiles a couple different youngsters, including one who prefers reading anime fan fiction online to reading books. If you're a writer, especially in the young adult market, and you haven't perused, you need to take some time to check it out. The writing featured on the site is entirely user generated, and the stories have wildly inconsistent levels of grammar, punctuation and coherence. So much so that while you might be encouraged that a young person is at least finding somewhere to read online, you can't help but ask yourself if what they are reading isn't equally important.

That said, I don't dismiss reading on the internet as a whole as useless. In some ways, reading on the internet builds a different kind of comprehensive skill, one that no doubt will be a necessity in the not-too-distant future, as this generation, raised on the internet, becomes adults.

The question that I keep coming back to is that as a writer of traditional literature, how do I address the changing way that people are reading? Is Amazon's Kindle the answer? Or is that just another way of serving traditional literature in a different way?

So let me ask you: How can we rethink storytelling in the internet age?


stu said...

The technology doesn't necessarily change the mechanics of story writing, and the Kindle is probably a very good idea, if too expensive at the moment.

Fanfiction: stealing someone else's intellectual property and then claiming it's because you love their work. I suppose you could see it as on the same level as a tribute band, but really, would YOU want someone doing stuff to your characters?

Stephanie said...

It's not that technology is changing the mechanics of story writing, it's changing the actual kind of reading people are doing: skimming and gleaning for what interests them and reading shorter selections with shorter attention spans, instead of sitting down to read a long story, whether that story is delivered on a Kindle or in a book. What I'm trying to get at, and what the NYT article is addressing, is that long linear stories are not being read by young people. Instead, they're choosing shorter fiction, and serial fiction.

Which is why I brought up the issue of the FanFiction site. I'm not discussing the legitimacy of FanFiction - that's an issue for another post altogether - just pointing out that a lot of young people are choosing to do their reading on FanFiction sites and nowhere else. Right or wrong, what is it about FanFiction that is appealing to youngsters? Is it the truncated length? The serial nature of some of the entries? The possibility of participating by writing their own? Language that while incorrect is somehow less intimidating?

So ultimately, the question that I'm asking is are young people who read solely on the internet going to grow-up to read full length books (no matter what they're delivered on)? Or, are young people learning an entirely different kind of reading style that we are going to have to learn to write for and market to?

Sven said...

This is the future!

Ok, maybe not but thought it was cool.

The way fiction is presented in book form may never change, it's survived radio, movies, and TV. I think with the Internet things will be the same. At least in terms of books being published. A new model of serialized short-fiction may see a resurgence of popularity. The Internet would seem to lend itself to that style of light reading (I for one get exhausted seeing pages and pages of text on a screen).

But the way you interact with fans is going to go through an upheaval. The days of the misanthropic elusive writer may be numbered.

Prince Gomolvilas said...

The Internet is indeed here to stay. Otherwise, your blog would die! DIE!