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The End of Print as We Know It?

by Paolo Martin


For a number of reasons, I started spring cleaning early this year.  In the process of rummaging through my things and figuring out what stays and what goes to a fundraiser garage sale, I came across a number of old files with journals I had written, and a few other items like lesson plans, student reports, and so forth.  Unlike other instances in which I have been struck by the person I was years ago or by the creativity that seems to have evolved (and in some cases, dulled) over the years, this time I was struck by my penmanship.  Yes, penmanship!  I barely recognized it.  It was clean, legible, effortless. Nowadays, certain muscles in my hand tremble just trying to write a personal greeting on a birthday card!             

All of this, I believe, is because I'm spending less time writing things down by hand and more time typing things out on my laptop.  As far as reading goes, while I still read books, I now spend copious amounts of time reading material on the Internet - much more than I do reading from the pages of reference books or magazines.  It's amazing to me that in fewer than a dozen years of my life, my experience of text has changed so drastically that now much of it happens electronically. 

I don't know how my personality or my learning experience would have been different had my grade school been completely digital when I grew up, but we can be the first to watch some of our children develop in a completely digital environment, as many classes are now offered online.  In the city of Makkah (sometimes Mecca), Saudi Arabia, a school without paper and pens--completely electronic-based--opened recently.  According to an article from Arab News, "...the main objective behind establishing the school was to develop and modernize the Kingdom's education system and produce a new generation of Saudi students armed with knowledge, information and technology - the three essential factors for progress in the modern world.....All [the school's] academic and administrative activities are based on electronics and students of the school will not use any books." 

Is this just another sign that the end is nearing for print as we know it?  I can't say for sure, but I honestly don't think so.  While Bill Gates has been quoted as saying "Reading is going to go completely online" in an advertising conference in Seattle, I think there's something about the portability of a book and the ability to flip through the pages of a novel that will keep it from becoming extinct.  However, I do agree with Washington Post columnist Howard Gardner, who recently wrote that the prevalence of electronic media jeopardizes two aspects of the traditional book:  1) "...the author's capacity to lay out a complex argument, which requires the reader to study and reread...." and 2) the "hallowed" status of books and their ability to draw people into their own world for hours at a time, as online networking communities compel people to stay connected with each other 24/7.  But these are only possibilities.  One never knows what life brings.  In the meantime, the book is here to stay - to stand alongside the Internet, hand-held devices, video, graphic arts, and the many other forms of literacy developing and evolving today.  Howard Gardner put it nicely: "If we're going to make sense of what's happening with literacy in our culture, we need to be able to triangulate: to bear in mind our needs and desires, the media as they once were and currently are, and the media as they're continually transforming."

Tags: online reading, reading sources, reading materials, reading text

  1. Courtney
    Reply 06/02/08

    I completely agree that I also do a lot less handwriting than I did even two or three years ago.  I would much rather type something on the computer or send an e-card over a handwritten card any day!  I believe that typing is so much faster than writing.  Now we do everything on the computer.  We can do our lesson plans, grades, read books, all with the swift movement of the keyboard or quick click of the mouse.  It is amazing how digital our society has become. 

    I also agree that schools are changing, like the school from Saudi Arabia that went completely digital, allowing no books in the school.  This sounds like what we will soon be seeing in classrooms across America.  I suppose this digital era we are living in can have some pluses and minuses.  I think the pluses would be the speed at which we can now acquire information from all over the world.  We can access information from any country in the world and even watch a Panda have a baby in China through a web cam.  It sometimes baffles me to think about how far technology has come in the past ten years even.  The negatives might be that we no longer have that personal contact with people.  Now we are talking over web cams instead of dropping by someone’s house.  I think this digital phenomenon has also taken the “leg work” out of communication.  Instead of hand written personal notes, we are sending quick e-mails through cyber space.  Instead of making that trip to the library we are finding resources online.  I think some would say we are taking away personal meaning or touch in our communication with other people. 

    I don’t think we can deny that technology is always changing and transforming.  Although books are still a primary source of information, I worry that they may eventually be the eight track of our generation, pretty much obsolete.  Although, technology makes it easier for us to acquire information and communicate on both an educational and social level, it has its pitfalls too.  Sometimes technology can imagine things for us by putting an image in our mind before our brain does.

  2. Ed
    Reply 05/30/08

    I read that, despite popular belief, we use more paper now that so much data is digital, not less.  One possible explanaition is that we feel the need to print back ups of everything.  Whatever the cause, I doubt we will see an end to printed material any time soon.

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