Yes, Reading Online Is Still Reading

from the worry-too-much dept

Every few months it seems we see yet another headline worrying about all the time kids spend online, rather than doing things like “reading books” or writing on paper. This, of course, ignores the fact that most kids today are probably doing a ton more reading and writing than they have at any time in history — thanks to the fact that so much communication online these days is written. In fact, studies have shown that (believe it or not) kids today are better writers than in the past (“using far more complex sentence structures, a wider vocabulary and a more accurate use of capital letters, punctuation and spelling”). Yet, that doesn’t stop articles like this one wondering if online reading and writing really counts as reading and writing. About the best you can say for these articles is that they’re people complaining that kids these days read and write differently than in past generations. There’s little to no evidence however that kids are any worse off (despite some sensationalist headlines to the contrary). It seems like, as with every generation, there’s a group of adults who insist that “these kids today” are somehow dumber because they do things differently.

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Comments on “Yes, Reading Online Is Still Reading”

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rockerest says:

Re: Re: Re: Agreed.

@ #2
@ #4

#4, wrong, you missed the “I”.

#2, it’s, “Yeah I hate those assholes who don’t use vowels”

I would like to mention that I’ve seen some pretty atrocious spelling, grammar, mechanics and the like in my day (and I’m 19). Maybe people (see: kids) are better writers, but sometimes, they get pretty damn lazy and it’s AWFUL to read.

I personally don’t believe kids today are better writers. The trash that I’ve peer reviewed in high school and now college is the most unintelligible tripe I’ve ever had the displeasure of viewing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Agreed.

I sometimes find my own personal footprint on the internet- My writing in the past was absolutely awful. I like to think it has improved a lot these days.

Txt spk is teh crap m8.

Oh, I figured out what you had typed- but since you already gave the answer there wasn’t really much point in leaving a reply.

Anonymous of Course says:

Adults have improved as well

Thanks to the Internet adults have improved
their writing skills too. I’m one of
them. Although part of the improvement might
be due to the spelling and grammar checkers
built into many applications. People learn
from having their work corrected so may can
see what mistakes were made. It’s more
productive than the big red X and a score
that I received on grade school writing

Traken says:


I agree with you there, and I’m IN college. I think the problem isn’t the internet, but in text messages.

Worst invention: text messages on cell phone. This butchers languages and has “proven” that it drops IQ in people constantly texting.

Second worst invention: predictive text. This removes any attempt at using decent grammar or spelling in text messages. You end up picking the word from a list…

Richard says:

reading is reading

I agree that reading online is still reading, so it still counts. However there is one part of writing that isn’t helped by online reading and writing, and thats hand writing. I know mine is terrible, and having just returned to schooling after a nearly 7 year absence, I realise that my cursive script is barely legible even to myself, probably because I haven’t used it in that entire 7 year absence.

I have to disagree with Traken about cell phone text messages and predictive text, the butchering of language was around long before sms in online chatrooms. I had a mate at school who set up special filters in Word so that it would translate “u” into “you” for him, as that was how he typed and you just don’t notice it when you use it so often. As for predictive text, you still have to be able to spell to be able to get the right list of words to choose from, and I would take somebodys list chosen words in a near complete sentence anyday over some invented for the minute short hand abbreviations.

Damien says:

Re: reading is reading

“I agree that reading online is still reading, so it still counts. However there is one part of writing that isn’t helped by online reading and writing, and thats hand writing. I know mine is terrible, and having just returned to schooling after a nearly 7 year absence, I realise that my cursive script is barely legible even to myself, probably because I haven’t used it in that entire 7 year absence.”

And I bet you wouldn’t know how to use a slide-rule either if someone put one in front of you. Doesn’t the fact that you haven’t needed to use cursive in 7 years tell you something about it’s usefulness in the modern world?

Unless you’re taking notes or are an old-school author any writing of length is better served by typing. It’s faster, more portable, and has built-in dictionary & thesaurus features, among others.

Richard Ahlquist (profile) says:

Re: reading is reading

While your quite correct that handwriting isn’t addresses by online activity, that point may be moot. Here in Georgia they are mandated to teach writing a bit different that when I was in school. When I went to school K-3 was learning how to block print, with emphasis in 3rd grade on neatness. In 4th grade we started to learn cursive. Not so now, now they teach D’Nealian. To me D’Nealian is a half assed mutation between block printing and cursive. Its not quite either. It’s also not explained to the parents.

My wife and I fussed at our poor daughter on several occasions this year because her name has double L’s in the middle and it looked like she was writing them in capital letters. She being in kindergarten didn’t have the proper way to explain at first she was doing as she was taught (we had taught her block printing over the summer). Eventually she explained they were told to write that way (see ), at the next conference we confirmed, they were being taught D’Nealian, by mandate of either the county or state and a child would get poor marks in Kindergarten by these rules if they block printed!!!!

They wont take the time to teach them in proper stages. So encourage wht evr u can!

MadJo (profile) says:

I can has cheezburgar?

All kidding aside. I see a lot of text on the internet that’s riddled with grammar mistakes. Especially in Dutch, where the writers use the wrong tense. (“ik heb dat gezegt” instead of “ik heb dat gezegd” or something similar, mixing up their “d”s and “t”s.)
So I’m not sure if the internet is really helping. But I’m also not sure if it’s detrimental.

Shohat says:


Reading Newspapers != Books.
Reading Woman Magazines != Books.
Just like MTV!=listening to music.

The purpose of reading books is reliving something inside your imagination. Reading newspapers, articles or encyclopedias is all good, but this is completely different reading.
A person that reads a newspaper every day and a person that reads Ender’s Game as a child gain two entirely different things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ahem

By your definition, reading an autobiography or a biography of someone falls under the category of “newspapers, articles, or encyclopedias”…

The purpose of reading books isn’t ONLY to “relive something inside your imagination.” It’s ONE of the reasons. Another reason is to gain information. Yes, reading newspapers, articles, encyclopedias all consist of reading. You’re gaining knowledge. Reading Ender’s Game gives you knowledge, too. If you’re a writer, it might give you an idea for a sci-fi story, or a story about a child hero. Another purpose of reading is for pure enjoyment. But… I’ll have you know that I’d rather be reading about the dietary life of mollusks than read pages upon pages of Hawthhorne describing how the clouds looked in Scarlet Letter. (Ugh, I hated that book.)

Shohat says:

Re: Re: Ahem

I want to fucking stab you in the face.

You write exactly what I write, and you apply a disagreement tone to it.

Of course it’s ONE of the reasons, hence I say “gain entirely different things” . Both people gain, just different things !
Nobody said it’s bad to read a newspaper, an encyclopedia or a biography.

Repeatedly. In the face.

creig (user link) says:

online reading /writing really is what it is

i am a 40 year old male that attended a private school from the age of 4-18. reading/writing math, science and all the other academics i had were 2-3 years ahead of my neighborhood friends whom attended public schools, not to mention my school was a christian school and we were subjected to rigid discipline.i was from a lower middle class family economically but my parents were college mother worked for the county and my father owned his own business but not a very profitable one. i had to read hundreds of books and write as many papers. now i read on the internet and write all my papers on word perfect and nothing is lost by the switch and i would agree that kids are reading more because the computer is interactive and they must read to use the computer. things are done differently but it is a good thng not a bad one based on my experience.

Me says:


From what I’ve heard on the argument, it’s not that the internet doesn’t class as “reading”, it’s that what kids (and most people) read on the internet doesn’t count as “proper reading”.

So rather than reading classic books or whatever (I’m probably not the best example, I’m only 20 years old and I spent my childhood reading Sherlock Holmes and 1930s-1950s children’s books handed down from my parents and family members), they’re reading random stuff like somethingawful and emo blog posts and…. I dunno, whatever kids read on the internet. A lot of myspace profiles, I assume.

I think this is where the criticism comes from. Whatever the actual impact is (whether kids are getting better or worse at writing/reading) is irrelevant to most internet critic’s eyes; when they see a kid reading a myspace blog about someone’s latest concert experience, they’ll compare it to their own childhood when they were reading To Kill A Mockingbird or something, and the internet comes out looking worse, and people just base their assumptions on that.

As a side note, my dad used to complain I spent too much time on the internet instead of watching the telly(?!?!).
Apparently, watching Big Brother 24/7 (which he did) is “better” than at least doing something interactive (instant messaging, forums, games, whatever).
I mention this because there must be other parents who shared this extremely confusing attitude.

Eadwacer says:

The difference is length and complexity

Internet writing is more akin to newspaper writing than book writing – they tend to be short, compact articles about a single view of a single topic. If you only read these, you don’t get any practice in following longer narratives, describing more complex ideas, in more subtle terms.

Motown says:

ur all mssng th pnt

It’s really about communicating clearly.

To illustrate my point, consider an ancient text:

“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”

Some of you may recognize it as a verse from the Bible. Regardless of how you feel about that book, the verse illustrates a key indicator of good writing – does it clearly convey the intended message? (Note: This isn’t a discussion of whether the Bible does this or not) Good writing should do this. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a novel, a newspaper article, a blog, or a txt msg. Good writing, in turn, makes for good reading, regardless of the subject matter. I suspect that a lot of the people who don’t consider many items on the Internet real reading because much of it isn’t good writing.

However, the quoted verse also illustrates the other side of the issue. Language changes. The verse is taken from the King James Version. It was completed in the 1600’s. People rarely talk (or write) that way anymore. Sometimes changes in language are driven by new methods of communicating (hand written tomes > printed books > blogs). Sometimes it’s driven by the way people use the communication media. Trying to stop it is like trying to stop the wind.

The bottom line is this: Writers should try to make sure that their ideas are communicated clearly, regardless of the media or method used. And “readers” shouldn’t be afraid of the newer ways people present their messages. By making the effort to understand the newer ways of communicating, “readers” will be in a better position to judge for themselves whether or not something printed, posted, or texted is “good” reading.

The Missus says:

Re: Re:

I can attest to adults improving themselves using the Internet. My husband, not a good reader nor writer due to temperament and frustration with English grown from bilingualism, only began using a dictionary so he wouldn’t look like an asshat on a martial arts forum he’d joined. He still uses me as his personal thesaurus.

He wanted to be properly understood so he made the effort to achieve this, even when it doesn’t come eaily to him. I appreciate that effort from anyone communicating. I detest large chunks of text or chat-speak, since I don’t understand most of it and it’s presumptive on the part of the communicator that anyone would.

I feel the same way about walls of archaic legalese, especially when somewhere in there is something that will effect me greatly…if only it were communicated in a way I could find it.

Scorpiaux says:

Kids today

“It seems like, as with every generation, there’s a group of adults who insist that ‘these kids today’ are somehow dumber because they do things differently.”

It will always be that way. However, stepping outside of the discussion about reading and writing, some kids today seem not to have any use for a belt for pants or shorts that have a too-big waist. It strikes me as both amusing and dumb to watch a young man walking down the street with one hand in a pocket holding up his pants but not so high that we can’t see that he prefers plaid boxer underwear. That’s dumb. Not the kids, necessarily, but the behavior.

As another aside I have told my own children as they were growing up that human nature and human intellect hasn’t changed in tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Humans are simply more knowledgeable in general, not smarter.

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