Posted by: elightkeeper | April 12, 2010

Generational firewall

I don’t read the way I did before the internet became a part of my life.  A chronic stack of  partly read books sits on my coffee table, and I have my nose in two or three of them at any given time.  Unless I’m in a deck chair on a holiday somewhere, I don’t seem to get cover to cover on books anymore, at least not in the linear fashion I once followed. Occasionally, I’ll abandon a book I’m reading altogether. Something has seriously shifted. 

Although my approach seems fragmented,  I am actually reading now more than ever.  But I read very little in order anymore.  I also read very fast and frequently from multiple sources on a given topic.  Much of what I take in comes in bite-size pieces. I grab small parcels of in-depth information and skim past that which seems less interesting or important.  I call this “chipping”,  as I feel like I am breaking up vast mounts of information with a small digital hand tool, looking for ore in a whole lot of rock. 

Reading habits are changing and it is not a new phenomenon. A new kind of literacy debate has emerged in recent years, with particular concern expressed for the Net Generation – those who have grown up digitally.  One camp claims the internet is ruining reading in young people, destroying attention spans,  and may even be at the root of poorer scores in literacy measures; another camp claims that digital reading is different, is not being accurately measured and is not being encouraged. And true to the digital age, many other views add to the murkiness and complexity of the issue. Everyone has an opinion in the digital age. Further, everyone is able to express that opinion and be read by those who are chipping on the internet.

For children growing up in the digital age, literacy will be acquired in an entirely different fashion. At the annual ASCD Conference last month, Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics and Grown Up Digital, outlined the changing nature of reading in the digital age.  He referred to the regulation of digital information in education as a “generational firewall”.   In his view, the unique skills and abilities of the digital age and its members are not yet valued and are frequently blocked from the educational experience. 

My own reading habits, as well as those of other Boomers and Gen Xers, have changed significantly in the past decade.  It would be oversimplifying the case to claim the shift is generational only –  it is much more complicated and pervasive than that.  It may be, however,  that the real shift in education will begin with the generation that defines and addresses digital literacy issues.  Many of us were not born in the digital age, but we live in it.  We are all affected. Who will take the first steps?


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