In his third guest blog, James Wood discusses whether interactive media might be affecting literacy skills and creating a problem of addiction for young people…
As a mentor in schools, I’ve found that the majority of pupils I’ve worked with aren’t particularly interested in reading. Under 16s are surrounded by an interactive, online world of social media that seems to be replacing the role of books. From my experience, children don’t engage with reading much anymore; they would much rather be on Facebook, posting selfies on Snapchat, or watching videos on YouTube. So why is this happening, and should we be worried? Social media seems to have become an addiction for many people, who can’t seem to go a single minute without checking their online accounts.
One reason young people are so addicted to using social media is because they’ve been raised in a world that uses online interaction as the main means of communication. We are constantly surrounded by online publications, social media sites, the interactive web 2.0, YouTube…etc. I am a university student and I don’t know a single undergraduate who doesn’t have a Facebook account! Virtually everyone uses social media to post about their lives. The latest craze, Snapchat, gives users the chance to post pictures and videos about their everyday lives for people to see. This has become so addictive for some people that it’s causing fights over the loss of what’s called a Snapchat streak, in which if you don’t keep sending ‘snaps’ back and forth between each other within 24 hours, the streak is lost. On Facebook, if you don’t reply to someone’s message within a few hours, they often get angry. Validation has become increasingly important in our everyday lives, and this may be related to our brains being rewarded with a rush of Dopamine each time we find a post has been liked or we have a new follower. If you’re interested in this neurological perspective, read Dean Burnet’s The Idiot Brain. Whatever the reason, this addiction is so serious that it’s tearing up friendships and causing arguments. For a more peaceful life, I would recommend picking up a book.
Another problem is FOMO (Fear of missing out), some people have Facebook just because everyone else does. People want to be in the know at all times, so much so that it becomes increasingly difficult to live your life outside of the screen. For those born before the internet age, validation comes from the simple pleasure of reading for pleasures sake. It’s interesting to note that studies have found that the more connected we are, the more we feel alone. Perhaps we will reach a saturation point and books will become loved once more for their simplicity and lack of distraction?
Another possible problem with literacy levels in the digital age is the reliance on tools such as auto-correct and calculators. Consequently we are losing our ability to spell or solve a simple equation, meaning our numeracy and literacy levels are diminishing. This is potentially creating a generation ill- equipped for the workplace. Something outlined by the OECD in 2013. Online translators also hinder the learning of other languages, young people often don’t bother learning a word in order to say it in another language, instead they just search the word and copy and paste it wherever they need it in order to communicate. There is no effort made to learn from literacy mistakes as online resources do it for you. This suggests it is the immediacy of communication – the here and now – which matters most, rather than the process of learning.
Videos are another tool that potentially stunts literacy skills. Videos, unless they have subtitles, often remove language and focus on visual representation. Likewise social media has become a platform that not only strives to addict young people to its sites, but is also a place where language is slowly being removed and replaced with emoticons. This means that both are challenging (and replacing) reading as a form of entertainment. From my experience this means that reading has become functional, something you have to do for an essay at school, and so is no longer associated with pleasure.
I am by no means saying that web 2.0 and social media are demons that alienate young people into throwing aside books. Indeed, Dawn of the Unread has a YouTube channel with over 50 videos. These include ‘how to create a comic’ videos and the Nottingham Essay series. It also has an App and a social media presence through Facebook, Twitter, Storify, Tumblr and Instagram. But these platforms and devices function as a coherent whole, each feeding into each other as a means of enhancing our knowledge of literature. They are not a replacement for reading. They offer access points into it.
But undeniably the interactive world of digital media is having a profound effect on our ability to concentrate and this in turn is having an impact on literacy levels. When mentoring in schools, I find that much of the content my pupils read and watch has nothing to do with their academic subjects, they are engaged with it because it is funny or entertaining to them, but it is in no way useful to improving their literacy skills. Perhaps Neil Postman was right, we are happily “amusing ourselves to death.”
Given our understandable addiction to social media it would help if more were done to help younger people burst through their filter bubbles. There must be more to life than prank videos and farting cats. But in order to draw users away from mass distractions, reading – and by implication knowledge – must be positioned as a pleasure. As something that helps us grow emotionally and intellectually as individuals. This is a difficult challenge, but one that needs to be addressed if we are to raise the appalling literacy levels of young people today.
- The Network effect, an online experience website about social media withdrawal: (networkeffect.io)
- Social media addiction: (computerworld.com)
- 5 Crazy Ways Social Media Is Changing Your Brain Right Now: (youtube.com)
- What is the internet doing to your brain?: (youtube.com)
- Impact of social media and technology on literacy and learning: (www.youtube.com)
- Facebook and Twitter ‘harm pupils literacy’: (dailymail.co.uk)