Last week, The New Yorker has an article titled: “Twilight of Books: What will life be like if people stop reading?” The article rattles off statistics about how much less we read as a culture, and statements like this:
“More alarming are indications that Americans are losing not just the will to read but even the ability.”
It’s a fascinating article, and not a simple black and white issue. But I would like to look at what we have gained as new media and the internet have entered our world.
I would argue that we have experienced the following:
- A rebirth of reading, albeit in new forms.
The web is filled with language, and the primary source of communication on it is through text. We are exposed to a seemingly infinite amount of content, much of it free. Also with email, social networks, blogs and other new tools for communicating, we find ourselves reading constantly. See the image to the right for the stack of reading I had a couple weeks ago. On the computer screen are my unread RSS feeds. Luckily, I am all caught up now!
- A rebirth of writing, albeit in new forms.
The web has given anyone with a computer and network connection the ability to share their writing with the world. And people have done so in droves. Blogs, wiki’s, social networks, user-generated content, and the like have seen an explosion in people writing constantly online. And that’s not even mentioning email and instant messaging.
There is another key distinction here: people are writing with the knowledge that it can and will be read by large groups of people, many of whom they won’t know personally. Even our personal online communications are in many ways, mass communications.
- A rebirth of learning.
I am still blown away by the fact that universities are putting their courses online for free. The New York Times had another article this week on the topic. Explaining how an MIT physics professor has found a worldwide audience for his lectures.
As the cost of getting a college degree escalates, the price of knowledge, access, and education has come to zero in many cases. You can access almost any news source for free, anywhere in the world. You can access University courses for free. You can connect with experts on forums, blogs, and through email. Simply amazing.
- A rebirth of creating.
The web has become a massive playground, and an entire generation is growing up pushing the “post” and “send” buttons. We are becoming unafraid to express ourselves, to connect with inspiration, and to be recognized for skills that would otherwise be lost from the view of the world.
And I am not just talking about the creative arts like drawing, video, performance and writing. An accountant in Montana can create a compelling community or blog around their passion. They can create resources that others connect with.
A recent report from Pew indicates:
"Content creation by teenagers continues to grow, with 64% of online teenagers ages 12 to 17 engaging in at least one type of content creation, up from 57% of online teens in 2004."
Simply stated: the barrier to entry for creation and distribution has lowered to just about zero.