First, the digital natives are really children born after 1990 or thereabouts... that's really young. So this major problem will not show its real face until 2010 or 2020. But then that's quite close really.
But then, will it be too late? Or should we even bother? Maybe in the world we are moving to we won't need long focus to survive, and we are adapting to a fit in a world in which multitasking is the vital skill, and those who can't will lose out.
A growing body of literature argues that, in Steven Jones' words, EVERYTHING
BAD IS GOOD FOR US. Television is good for us: makes us smarter. James Paul
Gee studies WHAT VIDEO GAMES HAVE TO TEACH US ABOUT LEARNING AND LITERACY,
and concludes that they have a lot to teach us.
And yet there is the possibility that the ability of college graduates to
read complex materials is declining sharply. Or so says the recent National
Assessment of Adult Literacy.
If the Assessment's findings hold up, the remaining question is, of course:
Is the ability to read complex texts important in the 21st century? And if
it is, are the digital natives well equipped for survival, much less
leadership, in the 21st century?
One popular and increasingly influential retailer of the thesis that the new
generation of cell phone and iPod and computer communicators is a new breed
of human with facilities adapted to work and citizenship in the 21st century
is Mark Prensky
"Multitasking" means to Prensky the ability to IM with friends while
attending to a college lecture or reading a book. Or getting all that a
television documentary has to offer while attending to the captions
College faculty throughout the US, and perhaps elsewhere where the new media
are ubiquitous, will testify to the difficulty the digital natives have with
the printed word. They resist reading even moderately difficult texts, and
often refuse to buy textbooks, sometimes acknowledging that the words on the
pages make little or no sense to them.
The digital natives may be analog immigrants
If this is so, if there are several grains of truth here, what should our
colleges and universities do about the New Illiteracy?
Two possibilities quickly suggest themselves.
The first: acknowledge that print literacy is dissolving and eroding and
morphing into something else, and convert instruction and instructional
media to that something else.
The second: acknowledge that print literacy is the central literacy needed
by those who function in the 21st century, and turn the attention of our
best minds to the problem of how to save and enhance it.