Just a heads up: the irony of this being online has not escaped me. The New York Times ran an article last Sunday about reading trends among kids and young adults. Seems like people are in a dither about whether reading online counts as reading or not. On one side are those who think that the internet is only going to become more important and ever increasingly the way we choose specifically which content we want, and so it’s no problem that kids are more comfortable using the internet, even exclusively, to find things to read. On the other side are those who posit that the combined reading content of games, chatting and MySpace comments amounts to a hill of beans, or perhaps a hill of cheesy poofs, since this type of reading is just intellectual empty calories. I thought the more compelling arguments were about how online content tends to be less focused or in depth than print, somewhat due to its ephemeral nature but more so because that fits people’s preference for a more casual treatment of a topic.
It’s interesting to take the two sides further down the logical path they begin; will kids turn into uncouth dunderheads because they didn’t read The Great Gatsby or will taking the time to read and digest novels keep kids from being able to nimbly navigate an internet that promises to fulfill whatever media and content wishes that a kid might dream up? Beats me. I worry that if kids read fewer books and spend more time online, they will be reading stories and authors (probably peers rather than career writers) that I don’t have any reasonable way to know the way I know the books in the library. On the other hand, there likelihood that the next Al Capone Does My Shirts will appear on the internet is probably pretty low.
The middle ground is mentioned early on in the article: the popularity of fan fiction. Kids write stories and post them on the internet for others read and review. This is clearly a more substantial dose of reading material than what you find on LOLCats, but it’s more searchable and easier to get something exactly the length you want. Visiting fanfiction.net, at least in the book section, I found myself in somewhat familiar territory. The fiction here is newly or reimagined plots based on books and characters from books, so what I know has at least some translation. I think this bodes well for literacy in that it is reading and writing for the fan author, and then reading and writing on the part of the fan fiction reader. What say you?