As someone born in 2001, it is confusing to understand what the world looked like before the Internet. Not being able to immediately find an answer to my questions sends me into an anxious state that I prefer not to imagine. What do you mean people had to write all of their research papers via their school or local library collections? A world without reading and writing online is one that I would rather not live in, but I understand the negative consequences it sometimes brings.
I think that the ability to share ideas to communities that don’t have the time or ability to constantly physically acquire and read is revolutionary and a phenomenal contribution to our society; however, I recognize that quick-paced, often inaccurate and distorted information can bring us all several steps back.
Two authors, Nicolas Carr and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, offer opposing viewpoints on the overall effects of reading and writing online on our society. On one hand, Fitzpatrick argues that the online world creates a “multidimensional conversation that takes place within a community,” while Carr believes that “the Net seems to be […] stripping away [his] capacity for contemplation and concentration.” Carr explains that in his experience “[today’s reading] is a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking,” while Fitzpatrick counters with the view that maybe this change isn’t so bad.
When listening to Carr and Fitzpatrick discuss their takes on the benefits and drawbacks of reading and writing online, they clearly establish themselves as scholars in higher academia. Even so, Fitzpatrick has a noteworthy understanding of how beneficial online access to information is for communities outside of the targets for scholarly journals. My favorite quote from her article is her claim that those who most fear the growing popularity of reading and writing online desire for a monopoly on scholarly media which can “flourish among an elite group of cultural producers and consumers.” In contrast, Carr ignores this perspective and primarily focuses on his own experience with reading and writing online. While his background portrays a meaningful perspective, I think it is crucial to examine how access to (scholarly) information influences other populations, i.e. those in high school and folks without college degrees.
I am a regular Twitter user, and have been for years. My feed has ranged from memes to popular culture to liberal news, and now focuses on the lived experiences of vulnerable and marginalized communities, along with secondary resources to expand on their perspectives.
As a high schooler, Twitter sparked inspiration for developing my current political judgments. Twitter allows me to hear directly from marginalized groups that do not have access to publishing deals and higher academia that would deem them “credible” to comment on their own experiences on a platform that is worthwhile for scholars. Those in the Global South, disabled folks, and low-income populations are just a few perspectives that have contributed to my current understanding of our world. Twitter was and continues to be my starting point for a significant portion of my learning, and I am grateful for that opportunity.
However, short snippets are not enough to truly understand complex issues. When learning starts and ends with social media is when I believe reading and writing online becomes ineffective, inefficient, and sometimes even dangerous. 140 characters are meant to be a catalyst for discussion and sharing worthwhile ideas and experiences- true learning comes afterward from further reading, which can look like details on in-person events to attend, articles to read, videos to watch, and of course, books to interpret.
Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?.” The Atlantic, 2008.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “Reading (and Writing) Online, Rather Than on the Decline.” The Modern Language Association of America,” 2012, pp 41-51.