Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Screen Literacy Indeed

I am still waiting for the proverbial “shoe to drop” after reading the article Reader, Beware, by Chris Suellentrop in the Opinionator column of the NY Times. In that piece, the writer takes up an assertion by Christine Rosen in which she argues that reading is different when performed from a print medium than from a digital medium, the difference between a book and a monitor. One of the points missed is the difference between reflected light and emitted light. That difference also changes the way we write and the manner by which we calculate. I'll take up calculation some other time and refrain from using the word "codswallop."

To be a writer one must be a reader. Forty years ago my wife and I wrote notes to one another in high school, preferring the fountain pen and our signature green ink. Today we will send one another an email in the same room, but that is because we can and we think it is funny. We are writers. Nothing replaces penmanship. I digress. My point is that I have to print a page and read it aloud in order to edit it best because I cannot see mistakes from a monitor.

Another argumentative point is the difference between analogue and digital media, a point that either dropped through the cracks or is another shoe awaiting its plummet. It is the same difference as exists between the wooden match and the butane lighter. Had the match been invented later, its unique selling points would have included that the match is a green, single use, disposal, biodegradable flame. So the book, magazine or newspaper requires no power of its own and is portable. If they have a downside it is that they are more easily burned than computer monitors.

Suellentrop seems to buy into writer Christine Rosen’s lament that so-called print literacy is being replaced by “screen literacy.” Her point is that making “reading easier, more convenient, more entertaining . . . is also supposed to encourage us to challenge ourselves and to search for deeper meaning.” Somehow I missed the point about literacy because I do not buy into the screen literacy concept.

I insist that to make reading easier, more convenient and more entertaining, well wrought entertaining prose does the job every time regardless of the media. Whether paperback or laptop, it is the message, not the medium, that is important.

By the way, had the fountain pen been invented after word-processing hardware and software, it would be a hit. Its unique selling points by definition are that a fountain pen is a hand-held, fluid medium, friction driven, analogue scribing devise. Nothing replaces penmanship.

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