The net has changed everything. Young people read screens, not paper. Plus, we’re all potential publishers now.
Publishing traditionally provided editorial, production, and marketing services. Today I can buy very rapid, very good, very low-priced editing from India. On-demand publishers will print as many (or as few) copies as you like. And publishers’ traditionally shoddy marketing is even more worthless in the days of online reputation and long-tail distribution.
The issue of literacy is a hot button topic and in my experience can be promoted for the wrong reasons and often without the data to back up the premises. I haven’t researched literacy in detail but I’m starting to keep some references, especially those that go against conventional wisdom.
Mark Federman introduced me to the idea that literacy is changing and we had better understand these changes, in Why Johnny and Janey Can’t Read:
… the notion that our beloved literacy is now nothing but a quaint notion, an aesthetic form that is as irrelevant to the real questions and issues of pedagogy today as is recited poetry – clearly not devoid of value, but equally no longer the structuring force of society.
Even The Economist, conservative as it is, questions the value of linear print literacy:
So, no surprise that when we incarcerate teenagers of today in traditional classroom settings, they react with predictable disinterest and flunk their literacy tests. They are skilled in making sense not of a body of known content, but of contexts that are continually changing.
I have feet planted in both camps, as I enjoy reading books but also spend much time following hyperlinks and co-creating written conversations online. I’m not sure what the future holds, but we have to look at literacy from a scientific and not a romantic perspective. For example, literacy groups and educators should broaden their perspectives on the definition of literacy as 4 billion people connect to the Internet with their mobile, text-messaging, video-enabled devices.