Tuesday, January 26, 2010

DIGITAL MEDIA: Literacy Without Books?

HOME LIBRARY ATTRITION: Literacy without Books?

DISCUSSION: Is printed media in danger of becoming obscure in the wake of computers and digital media? Is a transition to digital media a slippery slope to illiteracy?

Before I became a writer, I was a reader: The two are unavoidably connected. As a child I spent my summers at the public library; as a teen I devoured the entire JRR Tolkien Trilogy (plus The Hobbit) at least three times; and even in College, I found most of my texts to be as engrossing as the latest chick-lit page-turners. I always had a book with me, that I would pull out while standing in line or riding the bus. I collected books, old ones, new ones, texts and fiction, biographies and novels. I’d find books at library sales, used book stores, and garage sales. I received books as gifts, ordered new releases, and cherished signed copies. Dog-eared pages, tattered volumes, and dusty texts remained singly valuable to me, a lover of words, and to part with even the most obscure publication would be heretical! I hoarded books, and dreamed someday of having a large library of my own, with wooden bookcases, collector’s editions, a comfortable reading chair with the perfect lighting, and the comforting aroma of published pages and hardbound covers filling the room.

Unfortunately, a disparaging realization has manifested: Rather than expand, my personal library has dwindled over the past ten years.

Frequent moves across the country often forced me to choose only the most imperative works, a choice often impossible to make and filled with regrets and misgivings. I never returned a single text at the end of a college semester, because “I might need it someday”. I had quite a collection built up after Grad School…but my obsession blinded me to the fact that I would have to pay by the pound to move them all! Those hardbound books are heavy, indeed.

Still, this doesn’t account for the lack of new, or even used, additions to my library. Although rough financial times have reduced my trips to the bookstore, to say that the economy has kept me from collecting more books would be a fallacy, an excuse, because as any true booklover knows, the number of works collected has nothing to do with the amount of money spent. As I examine this attrition of literary works in my own home, I wonder if the same is true around the Country, across race and class, and through education levels.

As I started some preliminary research on literacy rates in America, I became more intrigued with the idea of a world without books, remembering Ray Bradbury’s book burning scenes in Fahrenheit 451. It is a scene that both frightens and saddens me. I have so many questions and so few answers! But they are questions that need to be answered. This debate is not new, and has extended to other forms of media such as music and video.

Is printed media in danger of becoming obscure in the wake of computers and digital media? Is digital media as effective as printed media in educational settings? In marketing or consumer settings? How can access to digital media become equal across social and financial classes? Is a transition to digital media a slippery slope to illiteracy?

To begin this discussion, I thought of several things in America’s culture that may be contributory:

1) 32 million people speak a language other than English

2) The Technology Revolution, as seen in day to day life.

3) The creation of the Internet, and it’s growth, especially in Social Media.

4) Technology in education, requiring new paradigms for teaching.
2010 is a National Census year, and think-tanks will churn out new reports on American life including how many toilets in the average U.S. home, and hopefully, new reports on literacy in the first decade of Social Media. In the meantime, while the data is being collected and analyzed, do you think that LITERACY can exist WITHOUT BOOKS?

©Kim Rojas

The Green Association for Sustainability
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