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Paper or plastic?

With e-mail, the Internet, podcasts, IMing and texting, is reading books still important?

With e-mail, the Internet, podcasts, IMing and texting, is reading books still important?

November 27, 2007|By FEDORA COPLEY / Pulse Contributor

As 21st-century teenagers, we are constantly using technology - cell phones, computers, iPods, etc. And apparently, none of us take the time to read a book.

At least, that is the stereotype.

But is this assumption based on truth? A recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) showed that the reading scores of 17-year-olds who took standard tests have steadily decreased since 1999. Also, nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 do not read books for pleasure.

People like Martin Potash, the supervisor of secondary English for Washington County Public Schools, are concerned about this decline in reading. In a recent interview with Potash, the matter of literacy was brought up.

If the rate of reading is decreasing, what will this mean for literacy? According to Potash, the NEA wants to make sure that "a love of reading is instilled in the school system."

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But literacy is not just reading.

Potash proposed the idea that literacy is "a matter of communication and comprehension." For sure, "books are crucial," he said, but if you look on High School Assessments for English, essay questions sometimes ask the writer to interpret not only a passage of text but a photo or illustration.

In this case, literacy is better defined as the ability "to take information and apply it to different areas," Potash said. For instance, in class, a student might be asked to write a song or put together a collage that shows themes from a work of literature.

As technology develops, literacy and communication might also evolve. New technology, such as playing video games and text-messaging friends, still incorporates reading and writing. But there are changes. When people text-message, many of them abbreviate words or use acronyms like "brb" (short for "be right back"). Will texting slang infiltrate the English language?

But back to reading. Books seem to be a distant thought for many American teens these days. How can we change this? Well, one answer comes in the form of a plastic box with a screen. The Amazon Kindle is an e-book - a computerlike device that wirelessly connects to the Internet and allows the user to download books.

It's a pretty sweet concept. The device itself costs $399. Downloading books costs $1.99 to $9.99. The text appears on the screen, and with a click of a button, pages turn.

Potash thinks this will be a huge development in literacy. For tech-loving teens, it's another piece of technology to carry around and look cool with. And Amazon's e-book reader might be a fast and cheap way to acquire books.

But $400 is not exactly pocket change. And even if it was cheap, some folks just prefer the feeling of a thick book in their hands. The Kindle is all hard plastic and electronics.

Reading will not die out anytime soon. Maybe half the 18- to 24-year-olds in America don't read books for pleasure, but the other half do. So, whether it's on paper or plastic, reading will continue. At least, for now.

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