more on reading

New Yorker article on the NEA Reading at Risk report, Ong's theory of orality and literacy, McLuhan, brain stuff, a retelling of the illiterate peasant tool grouping story, television, and lots of other stuff we've talked about this semester. It still doesn't address the narrowness with which the NEA report defines reading and for lack of any alternative presented in the piece it would seem that Caleb Crain, the author, is operating w/ the same traditional novel-for-pleasure notion of reading. There is, unsurprisingly, nothing about the rise in authorship that the internet has facilitated and I feel that we, as newly published online authors, should take offense. It's long so here are a few nuggets I've mined:

someone agrees with Ong:

"The secret at the heart of reading," Wolf writes, is "the time it frees for the brain to have thoughts deeper than those that came before."

The Internet, happily, does not so far seem to be antagonistic to literacy. Researchers recently gave Michigan children and teen-agers home computers in exchange for permission to monitor their Internet use. The study found that grades and reading scores rose with the amount of time spent online. Even visits to pornography Web sites improved academic performance. Of course, such synergies may disappear if the Internet continues its YouTube-fuelled evolution away from print and toward television.


Emotional responsiveness to streaming media harks back to the world of primary orality, and, as in Plato's day, the solidarity amounts almost to a mutual possession. "Electronic technology fosters and encourages unification and involvement," in McLuhan's words. The viewer feels at home with his show, or else he changes the channel. The closeness makes it hard to negotiate differences of opinion. It can be amusing to read a magazine whose principles you despise, but it is almost unbearable to watch such a television show. And so, in a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with.


Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching. Like the peasants studied by Luria, he thinks in terms of situations and story lines rather than abstractions.

And he may have even more trouble than Luria's peasants in seeing himself as others do. After all, there is no one looking back at the television viewer. He is alone, though he, and his brain, may be too distracted to notice it. The reader is also alone, but the N.E.A. reports that readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote. Perhaps readers venture so readily outside because what they experience in solitude gives them confidence. Perhaps reading is a prototype of independence. No matter how much one worships an author, Proust wrote, "all he can do is give us desires." Reading somehow gives us the boldness to act on them. Such a habit might be quite dangerous for a democracy to lose.

this is the note the article ends on. it seems to me like total rubbish. as if there wasn't a certain type of person who reads but that reading (yes, oh of course, how simple, how true!) is the prime variable that makes people live rich, full, and engaged lives. I know that every time I play ultimate or vote it's because of the boldness I got from reading Matt Christopher books and the acumen gleaned from Bob Woodward.