A Tipping Point for the Blogosphere?

          My title for this post reflects the intensifying struggle between those who seek to maintain and even expand the role and the practice of print media (especially reading and writing in the traditional sense) and those who are finding that cyberspace and a variety of websites provide an exhilarating freedom to think, emote, vent, connect, and perhaps even hook up.

Recently I have begun to wonder more and more.   Is the end of conventional literacy near? Will texting, E-mail communications, chat rooms, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and such, along with blogging, completely or nearly completely supplant print or “handwritten” communications?  How long can the printed newspaper, other print periodicals, and perhaps even the book survive? And will this be on the whole a “good thing”?

This quotation from Peter Cochrane (who is a media scientist), cited in a children’s books advertisement, caught my attention:   “Imagine a school with children that can read or write, but with teachers who cannot, and you have a metaphor of the Information Age in which we live.” Hmmm and much deep reflection indeed: how can this be?

Then a very literate friend of mind, who has published hundreds of articles and several books and who herself maintained a blog for several years, brought a most interesting but perhaps alarming article to my attention.  It appeared in an online publication, “Media/ \ Shift” originally and can be found here: http://www.poynter.medianews.com or at http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2008/09/embedded_atnyuold_thinking.

In this article a junior at New York University, Alana Taylor, is forthright in saying that she is “deeply involved in social media, new media, technology, ‘the move to digital’—whatever you want to call it.

She expresses her disappointment with her professors, her classes (in a class of fourteen girls and two boys, she soon discovers that she is only “blogger”), and the program in Journalism.  She outlines her dissatisfaction convincingly, observing that “What is so fascinating about the move from print to digital is the freedom to be your own publisher, editor, marketer, and brand.  But, surprisingly, NYU does not offer the kinds of classes I want.  It continues to focus its core requirements around learning how to work your way up the traditional journalism ladder.”  She goes on to illustrate in rich detail the “kind of thinking” that she finds that controls the curriculum and the career expectations for students: print media, of course, being the focus.

Ms. Taylor’s provocative article spawned, as you might suppose, a great many replies, and you can access these at either of the above links.

A viewpoint mostly contrary to Alana Taylor’s can be found in the September 15, 2008, issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, This essay,   by Mark Bauerlein, is titled “Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind: Slow reading counterbalances Web skimming.”

Relying considerably on the findings of cognitive scientists Jakob Nielsen and Donald A. Norman and findings brought forward by several education entities, Bauerlein argues that a distinction between the kind of cognitive processes in “screen reading” and in “print reading” is genuine, that online readers and researchers tend to value information over ideas and opinions, clarity over effectiveness via stylistic variations and the interaction of human beings, that print reading proficiency among students continues to decline, and perhaps, most tellingly, that for all the billions of dollars that have been spent in schools to improve the access of their students to up-to-date online technology, there have been only “meager returns.”

There is much more of interest and value in Bauerlein’s article.  It can be found in full, as I’ve indicated earlier, in the September 15 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The primary questions I am left with are,  “Where do we go from here?  Is it possible that print and screen literacy can survive or perhaps even both thrive in some kind of unusual merging?   Or are we involved in a conflict between cyberspace and the conventional page that must end with one side in the battle destroying the other?”



2 Responses to “A Tipping Point for the Blogosphere?”

  1. Chuck Says:

    I wrote about Mark Baeurlein’s article on my blog a couple of weeks ago, and while I think that his concerns about the state of education are warranted, I don’t think the digital shift that Bauerlein describes exists, at least to the degree he imagines it. Instead, I tend to agree with Siva Vaidhyanathan, writing in the same issue of CHE, who argues that while many students are using digital technologies, their relationship to digital media is pretty complicated. Not all of our students are blogging. I’d venture a guess that most of them aren’t.

    That being said, I don’t know that print and digital literacy should be seen as exclusive. While there are differences between reading on page and screen, blogs rely on written text and quite often refer to texts that are printed.

  2. Raymond Rundus Says:

    I’m not usually this slow in responding. But my computer has had a number of digestive problems in recent weeks, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to see if Rolaids or Alka-Seltzer will improve the workings. Did get a “Registry” software aid, and that seems to do some good. I hope to get my computer to move faster from now on.

    I do appreciate Chuck’s comments. Just read recently in today’s paper a feature on a successful local teacher who especially is noted for her work with “Future Business Leaders of America,” who must, of course, be very adept in communications. You suggested that only a few students are into blogging. I wonder what Ms. Grissett would say about that.

    In the same story, it was reported that there was a mixture of word processors and typewriters being used in local high schools as late as the 1990s. The tipping point probably occurred when the advantages of speed and editing of written work took over the old technology. This may be happening now with the flex point between print reading and screen reading. The difference here, though, is not relational enough, in my opinion, for the book and the magazine to completely disappear. Who would take a laptop to bed for reading, or to the beach? Portability will probably keep print materials available for as long as feasible and foreseeable in the future.

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