As our generations rely more on reading digital materials, many scholars blame this new type of screen reading for the population’s declining scores on traditional reading assessments. As the popularity of print books has declined so have basic reading skills like identifying themes, drawing inferences, etc. Reports by the National Endowment of the Arts claim, “as people read less print… they read print less well.” Supporters argue studies show a strong correlation and causal connection between literary reading and reading ability. Author of The Dumbest Generation, Mark Bauerlein strongly links the loss of reading skills to the decrease in print reading. Bauerlein argues, “there is no transfer between digital reading and print reading skills”. He continues to refuse any valuable effects stemming from digital reading and claims it “does not even lead to strong digital reading skills”.
But this makes me wonder: How could digital reading not build any literacy skills or boost reading scores?
How is it so different from traditional print that no skills transfer over?
I find these claims that the decline in traditional reading scores is solely based on the upsurge of digital media to be ostentatious and wrong. I strongly disagree with this unfounded trashing of digital reading, because Bauerlein’s persuasion lacks distinguished, unbiased data. I would be more convinced by data on the effects digital reading has on reading abilities. I believe digital reading encourages the development of a new, unique set of skills.
The traditional literature studies have also failed to raise the scores. Gallop and Johnson say, “close reading assures the professionalism …makes literary studies an important asset to the culture… justifies the discipline’s continued existence in the academy…” However, symptomatic and deconstructive reading practices have not proven to be productive or unique; Hayles says, “its results have begun to seem formulaic, leading to predictable conclusions rather than compelling insights”. Interestingly Hayles says, “there is little evidence that the profession of literary studies has made a significant difference in the national picture”.
To combat this “national crisis”, we must find a way to address Hayles’ crucial question: “how to convert the increased digital reading into increased reading ability”. I believe this is the true, rudimentary purpose of Digital Humanities. Together we can build “bridges between digital reading and the literacy traditionally associated with print”. We must take the strategies of close reading and trend it towards digital media. We can bring print reading abilities from literature classes to the digital realm. DH is the field that brings the two tracks, print and digital, that run side by side and merges the sides together.