12 July 2010

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday July 7, 2010
Online threat to reading culture

Web language has changed not only the way we communicate but also rewired our brains to only respond to things that are short and fast.

LET me make this clear: I love the Internet. As all my friends know, I’m online virtually all the time whether on my laptop or my PDA. I e-mail, Facebook, tweet, blog and chat nearly constantly. Someone once described my instant response to emails as “quite frightening”.

But recently there have been some articles in overseas publications talking about the effect of these new ways of communication on us, or more specifically, our brains.

As all these online ways of connecting are short and fast, our brains are literally being rewired to only respond to things that are also short and fast. In other words, our attention span has shrunk to, oh say, 140 characters. It has become harder for us to focus on anything that takes longer than a few minutes.

I have to admit that I’m as much a victim of this as any other Internet addict. I begin my days by reading the news online, mostly on Twitter. This wonderful invention delivers to me all the news stories in the world in one convenient form.

But it is edited already, first by me, because I choose which news websites I want, and then by the websites themselves.

As anyone who has clicked a headline to go to the website knows, there are always lots of other interesting stories which they don’t put up on Twitter.

But I do read. What Twitter, and sometimes Facebook, do is draw my attention to a story, and if my interest is piqued I follow the link and read the story in full.

In this way, I not only learn about the news fast but also in depth. The other day I read a fascinating story about the Bosnian war and how artists responded to it, which came to me via Twitter.

The Internet worries me for other reasons. I have always been a reader, so the Internet has enhanced my reading, not lessened it. But in a country where reading habits are already so poor, I have to wonder what it is doing to the young.

Recently, I posted a long article about gender equality on my blog. It was full of interesting information and insights and I thought it would provoke some interesting discussion. But most commentators only mentioned that the article was too long.

Interestingly enough, most of those who complained about its length were men, thereby fuelling my suspicion that men not only read very different things from women but they also refuse to read anything that has both length and depth.

Perhaps it is no surprise that there is a whole genre of books called “chick lit” and nothing called “dude lit”. Is there some un-macho stigma attached to men reading books? If reading is where we gain an insight into the world, then I’m afraid this dislike for reading alone will ensure that men and women will inhabit different worlds.

Indeed one young man proudly claimed that he had only ever read 10 books in his life, and in fact hates reading. Yet his English was excellent, a result, he said, of playing games online. This may be an exception.

My son, whose schooling was entirely in Indonesia, picked up most of his English from playing games on the Net. But one holiday he picked up a Harry Porter book and loved it so much, he read the entire four books available then in two weeks.

The point I’m trying to make is not just about reading. It’s about the ability to maintain focus for a decent length of time, enough to complete a job or to learn something new.

If our young people are doing everything in quick bursts, whether it is on SMS or chat, then are they acquiring the focus needed to really learn anything or to concentrate long enough on something in order to become an expert at it?

Today we see written language, already poor, being shortened in such a way that it can become incomprehensible. We may need to be concise on many things but we still have to be understood.

SMS language is really only appropriate on mobile phones and not anywhere else.

Perhaps the real danger to a native language is not so much another language but the abbreviated mobile phone form of itself.

There must be a way of marrying the immediacy of the Internet with a more leisurely reading habit. Better-written books and articles would help. Making reading books cool would increase interest.