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TinotopiaLog → Reading vs. The Internet (26 Jun 2002)
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Wednesday 26 June 2002

Reading vs. The Internet

From a Washington Post article about how boys today don’t read as much as girls do:

We always had books around the house. And there were, of course, fewer entertainments competing with reading when I was growing up. Undistracted by cable TV, the Internet, DVDs and Playstation 2, I could be bored enough to be driven to discover on the summer cottage bookshelves copies of Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Reader’s Digest’s I Am Joe’s Liver and Boccaccio’s Decameron. I read to make my own discoveries. The more I read, the more I wanted to read.

Heh, heh. I read all the articles about Joe’s various organs, too, when I was wee. But that’s not what I’m about at the moment.

Note that this guy sees the Internet as something that distracts from reading. Sure, there’s a lot of porn online, and some incredibly bad Flash games. But I can’t help but to have noticed that the vast, vast majority of the material available online is in convenient text format. Text that, even in this Jetsons-like future we live in, requires reading.

I shouldn’t be too hard on the writer, though; the point he’s actually trying to make is a good one, and the article isn’t really about the Internet vs. reading; but I still can’t get over the fact that people a lot of people see “education”, “learning” and “reading” on the one hand and “The Internet” on the other as fundamentally different things.

Posted by tino at 17:52 26.06.02
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My big addiction in life is reading. I’ve always known this. I used to feel bad that I didn’t read as many books anymore, until I realized that the Internet was replacing them. Some of it’s crap, of course. I read a lot of crappy books, and I read a lot of crap (LiveJournal, anyone?) on the internet.

But also, the internet is where I got a lot of basic information about what it means to be a libertarian, it’s where I find most alternative points of view politically, and it referred me to several books that taught me a lot.

Anytime I want to know something these days, it’s “Let me go look it up”. The internet is sheer heaven for information junkies like me.

Really, I wonder, what ARE people using the internet for that they consider it like TV? Must be all those informationless flash sites that I hate so much.

Posted by: Evelynne at June 27, 2002 09:49 AM

I have not been to a library — any library — in years. I used to spend a whole lot of time there, both in the university libraries and the big public ones (which are generally superior to university libraries for oddball things like self-published accounts of trips to the USSR in the 1920s) — and now I don’t even have a library card.

This isn’t much of a problem, since there is, at least superficially, a lot more information available online than in even the best libraries. You’ve still got to screw around with books in person if you’re doing serious research, but for the statistical smash-and-grab that I’m generally involved in, the web is much more useful.

Except when it’s not, of course. As I said here some time ago, copyright restrictions (some reasonable, others not so) make it difficult or impossible to obtain online lots of information that used to be readily available in the public library. (Actually, most of it still is readily available in the public library, but since I don’t have to go to the library for much any more, it’s become de facto less accessible for me.)

As I said, some of these restrictions are reasonable. The Oxford University Press depends on the income it gets from the sale of their dictionaries and the access fees for their on-line dictionary. Any library making this resource available online would certainly cut into OUP’s ongoing income.

But one of the great resources of public libraries are their collections of newspapers and magazines on microfilm. Since the microfilms are generally only available at the main branches of well-run big-city libraries anyway, this makes this information quite difficult for most people to use. Condé Nast is never going to make another dime off the August 1950 edition of Mademoiselle — especially in a nasty, black-and-white microfilm version — but it’s still illegal to run that film through a scanner (trivially easy) and make it available online.

It’s quite a bit off the original topic, but there is is. Distinguishing “The Internet” and “reading” is silly from a pedagogical (though probably not cultural) point of view; but equating the Internet with a library is still (unfortunately, and due to extrinsic factors) inaccurate.

Posted by: Tino at June 27, 2002 02:05 PM