I'll get right to it: The scholars who doubt your intelligence and reading skills are narrow dimwits. And, you have every right to tell them to attend to their own reading abilities. You are able to read critically in the form they desire, as well as reading in diverse ways.
A faction of scholars have created a Brain Trust under the helm of Nicholas Carr, who escalated the debate with his 2008 article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" in the Atlantic, which I have debated handley. Carr stated that digital media "supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation." I have greater trust in you, and in myself.
The question started out as a good one, though outdated now. It turns out that we have multiple literacies just as we have multiple intelligences, and scholars along with the Pew Research Center agree. But here I will explore what the educated class sometimes deems "real reading."
Real reading in higher education refers to critical reading rather than casual internet or pulp fiction. Carr and others have a point, in that we should be able to do this form of reading. Katherine Anne Ackley describes it this way:
you read something carefully, thoughtfully, and thoroughly for two reasons: first, to understand it, and second, to assess it. Once you develop a clear understanding of a piece of writing, you have a solid basis for moving beyond comprehension to evaluation.
Most of the time you spend reading, you probably won't use this approach, but there are occasions when it is quite handy to have as a skill. A college course is just one example. You might use these techniques on the job with important documents, whitepapers, emails, or hand books. But don't feel obligated to always read this way because academia says you should.
Critical reading can be broken down into parts:
- Explore the title and context. This is a pre-reading exercise which prepares your mind for what it is about to discover. Your brain likes to have things organized, and a strong title creates a folder for it to file the information in. The title, usually, contains the gist of the article in a short phrase. What meaning do you find in the title? What do you think it will be about?
- Discover the biography of the author. Knowing as much as you can about the author helps you categorize the information. For example, you will give more weight to the Mayo Clinic website than to wikipedia. On Apple products, you would feel more confident with Tim Cook than Joe the Barber (maybe). What are the author's credentials? Where is his expertise? Where was he trained?
- Identify the author's intent. This is usually pretty easy to spot right away. Is the author trying to inform or persuade you? What is the author's motivation for writing?
- See if you can pinpoint the group of readers the piece is written for. You can also usually accomplish this quickly. Is she writing for an educated audience? A young audience? A female audience? An executive audience?
- Try to find a thesis statement or the main idea. You might be surprised by this, but most skilled writers still use the tried and true thesis statement - a single sentence that captures the whole paper.
- Decide on the author's supporting ideas. The supporting ideas will be in the paragraphs, and again, most professional writers use topic sentences to introduce their main idea. Scan the first (and last) sentence of every paragraph.
- Create notes while reading the piece. Listing out the information you find in the above investigation and will help you keep track of your thoughts, remember the article, and be more critical and objective with the writing. As you slowly read through the article, keep track of important details.
- Write a summary in your notes after you've read the entire document. At the end of the review process, write a brief summary to make sure that you have grasped this article fully. If you can't summarize it, you didn't read closely enough.
- Analyze and assess what you have read. Now, having done all of this critical work, you can judge and evaluate the piece. This is a much better approach than deciding your opinion before you read. Waiting to evaluate until the end makes you objective. (Ackley 3-7)
I've summarized the whole process for you in the chart below:
I will still go toe to toe with anyone who wants to argue that digital media is making us dumb. I contend it is enhancing our intelligence. I hope you find this review helpful. In education, greater access, lower cost, expanded freedom, and increased knowledge are all positive. Only the old or blind fail to see this.
- Ackley, Katherine Anne. Perspectives on Contemporary Issues: Reading Across the Disciplines. 6th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012.