Clearly, reading in print and on the Internet are different. On paper, text has a predetermined beginning, middle and end, where readers focus for a sustained period on one author’s vision. On the Internet, readers skate through cyberspace at will and, in effect, compose their own beginnings, middles and ends.
Yes, internet reading is nonlinear. Yes, it may be tied to some disturbing trends in youth literacy (the article cites the same National Endowment for the Arts data and Atlantic Monthly article I linked to in my post last month.) Yes. . . the salient thing about this NYT article is that, although it’s a well-written discussion of a controversial question, it also shows how little data is out there to feed this important conversation. There’s a serious need for measurable benchmarks and well-defined criteria. What exactly is that clear difference between reading online and on paper? And what learning outcomes can we use to objectively determine, anecdotes aside, if one is “better” than the other? (Presumably neither will be better – each will have different strengths).
It’s an open question, and will probably continue to be so for some time to come.