Still Edging Ahead…

         One Teacher-Librarian's Journey…

September 14, 2008

Devil’s Advocate?

…not really, but I am wary of becoming a cheerleeder for uncritical adoption of “digital literacy” as the wave of the future – if it’s at the expense of traditional reading skills and the metacognitive abiities that arise from these.  This blog has helped me to reflect on my growing ambivalence, and the small cadre of readers who’ve responded to my posts have convinced me that the issues I”m mulling over are legitimate and my concerns shared by others.

I’m relieved to know that I’m in good company when I wonder whether jumping onto the digital literacy bandwagon  has any obvious downsides. When Maryanne Wolf’s “Proust and the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain” was released on last week, and after reading the reviews in the California Literary Review  and in the Guardian (thank you, Google!),  I couldn’t resist. Would Wolf shed some light on my ambivalence toward the latest incarnation of instant messaging and social networking? Would her conclusions about Socrates’s fears for the future of the “thinking mind” with the advent of written literature help me more unconditionally embrace the new technologies that I fear are threatening a traditional love of reading?

I bought the audio download and over the long weekend just past I listened to the full 8 hours and change once, and Chapter 1 and 9 (the introduction and conclusion) twice. Several chapters are rather tough sledding through the study of memory, reading and intellectual analysis at the molecular level, and much of the book is devoted to the study of dyslexia, a topic I find relevant and important, but not as compelling to me as the overarching issues involving the future of reading for all, dyslexic or not. Wolf’s analysis of Socrates’s fears (introduced in Chapter 1 and revisited in Chapter 9) alone, is worth the price of purchase.

To be sure, if I had tried to read this book in the traditional print format, I never would have made to the end. Having listened through, however, I’ve now dropped a copy in my Amazon shopping cart and I really do want to dig into what she says in a format where I can take the time to really absorb what she’s saying; to internalize the questions she raises and the conclusions she offers, and to incorporate these fully into my personal schema for understanding a little better what motivates my students to read.  For me, and, according to Wolf, that format is, and should continue to be, print.

PD Smith (the Guardian) says it better than I could. Until I can get my own copy of “Proust and the Squid”, I’ll close this post with Smith’s summation of what is, for me, the most compelling issues Wolf raises.

” But in the “Google universe”, with its instant over-abundance of information, how we read is being changed fundamentally. On-screen texts are not read “inferentially, analytically and critically”; they are skimmed and filleted, cherry-picked for half-grasped truths. By doing this we risk losing the “associative dimension” to reading, those precious moments when you venture beyond the words of a text and glimpse new intellectual horizons. Although not opposed to the internet, Wolf concludes on a cautionary note: we need to be “vigilant” in order to preserve “the profound generativity of the reading brain”.

And so, onward, promoting digital literacy in my library as an adjunct to, rather than a replacement for, traditional reading.


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