We are finally admitting that the reading and writing practices of our students are changing substantially, and also that the new models of literacy are not just an aberration but are gradually turning into the norm. As a matter of fact, the book is irremediably being displaced by the digital media as the main vehicle for the written word. Thus, more than ever, it seems more and more ridiculous to deny the incipient future of a digital formatted academia.
If art colleges’ faculty remain static, they’ll only get to increase the already existing gap between paper based and digital based cultures. Consequently, and honoring the —presupposed— open mindness of the humanities, we should start taking digital text and digital culture more seriously; because not admitting its validity is no longer an option, a choice or a personal stand. One of the main reasons being that screen text has become the main, if not the only, textual media for a great deal of students. And, leaving aside any kind of servilism, we need to arrive to an agreement with the student body to try to avoid a conflict that renders any deeper understanding between the two parts impossible.
Katherine Hayles (How we think, 2012), pays special attention to the different modes of reading among students these days —deep reading on one side, hyper reading on another. On one hand, she acknowledges the important loss in the transition from one mode to another. On the other hand, she is completely aware that there is no way back, and points out the benefits of hyper reading and the possible benefits deriving from the hybridization of both practices.
The downside of hyper reading appears to be obvious after a brief analysis: flooded by data, hyperlinks and stimuli, the attention span decreases, leaving students only able to focus on a text for reduced amounts of time and having their understanding impoverished due to the over ambitious desire to know quickly and easily. The benefits seem less powerful, but we are not yet fully aware of them: students are able to skim through information quickly and they tend to find the data they need faster.
Apparently, we are experiencing the disease of extreme wealth, the indecision and the overwhelm of an unlimited an non linear powerful medium.
Well, having reached this point, the obvious solution is to combine both mentalities and to try to change the new reading for the good instead of defending the old regime and offering a sometimes rather passionate and impulsive resistance to hyper reading. What should we get from each mode then? or maybe, What can we save from deep reading that can improve the new literacy?
Among all the things we need to save, merge and promote, there is one that affects the core of hyper reading: selectiveness of materials. One of the biggest problems of the hypertext is the abundance of contents, binging info can collapse our brains and make it very hard for us to grasp and to comprehend any of the materials read.
Critical thinking starts at a very basic level when we speak of web content. Internet is not like TV, we have to actively choose what we see —a cold medium in terms of Marshall Macluhan— which gives this medium way more possibilities of contrasting and offering more choices to adapt to our informative needs.
However, the internet is also full of useless and even pernicious and false information. Therefore, teaching students how to select and manage information critically, should be the main worry for teachers and potential docents.
Unsurprisingly, I cannot avoid connecting Hayles’ comment to the actual social status of digital culture and its day to day usage implications. If we applied the same selective attitude that we use for selecting recipes or news online to digital cultural objects, we would be contributing to the proper curation of online materials by discriminating the useful and valuable knowledge from the not contrasted and careless information than the miracle of the web allows. And only if the users adopt a critical attitude towards cultural objects and regulate the contents in a popular way, we will be able to claim the real democracy of the internet.