lunes, 19 de octubre de 2015

“A book about Facebook would be cool”: Conflicting opinions about reading on screen

One of the most obvious transformations in the literacy practices of adolescents between the original investigation in the 1990s and the new one in 2014 resulted from their increasing use of digital devices with screens. Even when statistics tell us that there are computers only in 35.8% of Mexican homes and Internet access in only 3 in 10 homes, more than 90% of the population between the ages of 10 and 18 habitually connect to the Web (1). As in other countries, this connectivity has contributed to the emergence of new youth cultures where hybrid and multimodal literacy practices converge. Addressing the theme of reading on screen is therefore essential for those of us who observe and attempt to understand where the new generations are heading in terms of education and culture.

Almost from the beginning of the mass use of devices and digital media, researchers realized that it was impossible to isolate digital literacies from other literacy practices, not only those related to literature but also to culture and consumerism. The “links” have continued to extend further, in a rhizomatic manner, together with other forms of communication, social networks and websites, as well as new models of marketing cultural products such as books or film. The opportunities these forms offer for searching, participating and creating have allowed many young people to express themselves and relate to others through multiple platforms and in modes that are intimately connect to the formation of their identities, values and beliefs. For researchers of reading and children’s and young adult literature, an immense field of study opened on the ways in which these themes fit in and become transformed within a digital world. It is a field that we are only just beginning to explore, spurred on by questions which, given the vertiginous pace of change, must be continually reformulated.

The task therefore goes much further than simply keeping in touch with the technological novelties, platforms or applications, given that it implies a preoccupation with the questions that are, and will continue to be, significant. Already some of the research from the beginning of the century seems out of date (for example, studies on the first educational CD-Roms), however, there are many studies that continue to provide pertinent reflections, as well as new ones that consider more specialized themes (2).

In the survey and the reading workshops that took place in 2014 in two Mexican secondary schools, it was evident that we had to address the theme of reading on screen, however, it was not our intention to cover the theme of digital practices but simply to probe to see, first, what kind of practices they mentioned, and second, what relationship there was between reading on screen and reading on the printed page. Very little is known yet about what happens in Mexico in this area and we wanted to learn directly from the young people. For this blog entry, we will only mention what we found in terms of some of the ‘myths’ about the theme of reading on screen based on the opinions of these “digital natives” which seem to reflect the same conflicting opinions offered by the “digital migrant” generation.

The ‘Rivers of Reading’ (seen entry for the 9th of December 2014), allowed us to make a list of the digital media they used in their daily lives, among them, WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger. As was to be expected, the students in the urban school used digital media more extensively and with more frequency than those in the school situated in the more rural zone, mainly because of access both to devices and the Internet. In both schools, however, opinions coincided and they revealed a polarized perception of the “benefits” and “harms” on the part of students and teachers.

The participants expressed commonplaces about the “dangers” of the use of digital media and reading on screen, for example, they noted there are “improper” sites and viruses, that social interaction on line can be isolating and that reading on screen “affects concentration”. Curiously, “damage to eyesight” was one of the most frequently mentioned problems.

On the other hand, they were also aware of the “benefits” that the digital world offers reading, for example, they mentioned they could look up information about authors, obtain reviews and recommendations, locate and download texts (many of them free). Jorge, who said he only ever read on iPad, told us how he reads scientific texts and also classic and contemporary literature, from Hamlet to Divergent. Even those who read “only a little” in terms of printed books were aware that it is still necessary to read to understand, for example, how certain videogames work.

During the project, without us directing them to do it, the students began to search the Web to find information about the authors and books we were reading for the workshops, about Francisco Haghenbeck (author of Justicia Divina) (see blog entry for 13th October 2014), for example, but also about Laura Gallegos, given that her site includes a variety of options that complement and extend the series Memorias de Idhún and permit the interaction with other ‘fans’ and with the author herself. In the course of the project, the participants also discovered “booktubers”, the young people who make videos of themselves recommending books in YouTube, some of whom have thousands of followers. (3)

During the sessions, disagreements arose about some aspects, for example, if it was easier to find the meaning of a word online or in a dictionary, if it was easier or harder to concentrate, become distracted, reflect or lose oneself in the reading.

We also found conflicting opinions when we spoke to some of the teachers about this topic. On one hand, they referred to the fact that digital technology “has beaten us” – as if they were participants in a battle between the printed book and the screen. They said reading on screen was distracting, that it was harder to do a “precise reading” and that the information on the internet was not always “correct” or “adequate”. On the other hand, they recognized that there are ways of using of the digital world for teaching: “We teachers have not known how to make the most of using Facebook or films or YouYube videos, all the technology that young people have.”

They noted that it was possible to create strategies to approach reading through the screen, as one teacher suggested: “We could say to them: look here, everyone [bring] your mobile phones here, everyone with your YouTube, come on, in 10 minutes, look for a book and we can share it”.

They also recognized that teachers are not always aware of the new skills of young people and what they can do with them: “Actually, if you notice, when they have and activity and they present their videos, their presentations are so well edited that they even look professional”.

We close this entry with a comment from one of the students who, when asked what sort of themes he’d like to read about in his Spanish class, said:

“A book about Facebook would be cool”.

We think that Jorge’s reply is revealing in terms of the implied convergence between the digital world and the printed word, as it shows the desire to read about topics that are close to adolescent lives - such as a digital social network-  but at the same time this topic is situated within the more traditional form of a printed book. Jorge reminds us that, in terms of the ‘new’ reading practices, the divisions are never as clear cut as we imagine, nor is the ‘new’ generation of readers that different from our own.

(1)  See, for example, Bringué Sala y Sádaba 2008

(2)  For example, the work of Jackie Marsh and Guy Merchant in the UK; Margaret Mackey and  Jennifer Rowsell in Canada; or James Paul Gee in the US. In Spain, Gemma Lluch has worked on this theme and a new book on the topic will appear soon from the research team at the Autonmous University of Barcelona, GRETEL.


In 2014, a “booktubers” encounter in the Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City) led by Daniel Goldin, revealed how successful this new way of recommending and talking about books has become. According to Marco Antonio López M., the Mexican “booktuber” community is the largest one in Latin America (La palabra y el hombre, Universidad Veracruzana, julio-agosto 2015).

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