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Has the Internet Killed Reading?

You can almost see the complainer now. She’s an old woman, whose experience of young people today comes solely from what she sees on the news and she has a habit of referring to mobile phones as ‘thingummies.’ Her aggravation about the internet and, more importantly, about the ‘youth of today’ is that we spend too much time on the internet and not enough time reading, or learning, or playing outside. The reason we don’t play outside, any teenager will tell you, is because we constantly get accused of loitering and unsettling people, because we supposedly hang around in gangs and smoke and kill things, despite the fact that in the majority of cases this couldn’t be further from the truth. When any group of teenagers goes outside, we’re usually looking for the quickest way to get back inside. Mainly so we can play on the internet, but not just to melt our brains or play mindless games. No, we are glued to the internet simply because of how much we have to learn!

What many people forget is that this generation is learning and reading more than any generation before it! The only thing that has changed is the media through which this information is provided to us. In years gone by, if you want to learn about something, you had to go out to the library, take out a book and look it up. Now, we can look it up, we can read about it on a small device right there at our fingertips. This hasn’t stopped us learning, how could it possibly stop us learning? In fact, I would venture to argue that we are learning so much more. If I went to the library to take out a book to learn about, let’s say, the digestion cycle, then the only thing I am going to learn is what that particular book has to tell me on that particular issue. With the internet, with blog sites and forums, we can learn so much more. We have a wider array of knowledge, a greater number of facts, organised in a far more structured, easily chartable format. This isn’t even touching on the added benefit of serendipity. The internet allows us to share anything we are interested in. If you’ve just read an article on Shakespeare and you find it interesting, you can share it on Facebook or tweet about it and suddenly, all your friends can see it too. They weren’t expecting to see it, they weren’t planning on learning anything about Shakespeare as they scrolled through social media whilst avoiding doing their homework, but they did, and they have learned something. Information can be spread so much faster, to so many people so quickly, that it is impossible not to learn.

There are those who state that the internet has killed Newspapers and novels. They claim that young people’s attention spans are so small that all they can truly comprehend, all they can process, is a short burst of information expressed in 140 characters or less. Newspapers, supposedly, are a lost art that no one cares about anymore. Supposedly nobody reads because we’re all too busy tweeting about how old fashioned our parents are because they talk about something called a ‘book.’ There are two major arguments in response to these people. The first is a casual reminder of a song from their youth: ‘Video killed the Radio Star.’ People seem to forget that as television developed from the one channel wonder it used to be, everyone was terrified that this marked the death of radio. Nowadays, radio stars like Chris Moyles and Scott Mills are literally worshipped! Why? They changed their format, they developed along with the times, and they survived. The news is doing the same thing. BBC news even has an app, which updates itself regularly allowing anyone who is of a mind to keep abreast of world affairs as they are happening. No one is disinterested in the news, they simply don’t take it in paper form anymore. There’s nothing wrong with this! If nothing else it saved a few trees!

Blogger Zoella, of whom I’m sure most of you are aware, recently wrote a book claiming she wanted to bring people back to reading and publicise it. There are so many things wrong with this. Firstly, it was later revealed the book was ghost written, which completely discredited her, but more than this there was absolutely no need. Despite our ‘fixation’ on the internet, we still read novels! When the Kindle was invented, the first thing that happened was many of the great pieces of literature, Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen and Wilde were converted to PDF files and given away FOR FREE! Then the Kindle app came out, so we could have these novels on our phones! Suddenly, these works of fiction are widely available. More than that, doesn’t it say something about us that this was our first thought? We turned straight to the classics, because the interest in novels hasn’t waned, not even slightly, our interest in paper has dissipated. Beyond this, the logic of the internet still applies. We don’t need to just read the classics anymore. In actual fact, there’s more being published now than ever before too!

It’s not just works approved by publishers either. We took to self-publishing, to writing fanfictions and posting them on blogs, to broadcasting our stories and publishing private diaries for the interest of the population. This isn’t to say the novel is obsolete, but it is merely one of thousands of ways to tell a story. This is, when you think about it, an extension of the natural process of things. Stories started off as oral tales around a campfire, then they were recorded on scrolls, followed by books, then novels were serialised in the papers, then came the age of the paperback. Now, we have the information age. Why not publish your books on the internet? Serialise them in blog form, publish them whole on the apple app store, it doesn’t matter. If you’ve got a story to tell, it’s easy to get it out there.

Believe me, we’ll still be there to read it.

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