The piece that struck me the most while reading Digital Divide was the one most resistant to the digital world: Maryanne Wolf’s article, “learning to think in a digital world.” As an author, she strikes me as the quintessential digital immigrant, resistant to the new world. Worried that, “the reading brain is slowly becoming endangered,” Wolf argues that children today should have to become expert readers before they immerse themselves in the digital world, and that “the immediacy and volumes of information should not be confused with true knowledge.” Drawing upon the philosophies of Socrates and Proust in the style of a true old-fashioned academic, she worries that children today will decode information without deeply reading and analyzing it.
I would like to preface the argument I’m about to make by asserting that I began using a computer around the same time I began reading chapter books. While I acknowledge that my reading brain functions differently from those of the older generations, I don’t believe it is in any way endangered. If children today read a word or concept they don’t understand, they can google it to learn the definition, along with its contexts in our society that they might not find through their own mental devices or the classic dictionary volume. This is the digital way of “going beyond the decoded text to think new thoughts of our own.” After all, isn’t the use of a search engine the byproduct of a new thought one has on one’s own? Children today may miss out on deep reading in the sense that they spend less time reflecting and more time interacting, but I would argue that they’ll be better equipped to draw connections between terms and themes than past generations, due to the vast amount of information accessible to them. Their cognitive abilities will be different, but not necessarily inferior.
In the same vein, who says that children analyze and react more to printed text than what they read on the internet? Just because the text is typically less complicated, what about that implies that their responses are less sophisticated? Children from my own public school district have begun receiving iPads as they enter high school, to be better equipped for the digital world. This did not necessitate the simplification of the content of the curriculum in the process; high schoolers will still “deeply read” and discuss The Great Gatsby as they always have. In fact, now that technology is formally present in the classroom, teachers may better acknowledge the widespread use of sites like Sparknotes and push students to go beyond the analysis everyone has read on the internet, or use it to spur discussion.
I am a product of the digital age: I think its both funny and endearing that my mom still usually addresses me “Dear Liz,” and signs off “Love, Mom,” when she texts me, even though both statements are implied before I open the text. It doesn’t make me sharper or her more literate, it just makes our communication stylea different. I’d be curious to hear what the rest of the class thinks about the difference in communication styles between digital natives and immigrants.