danger: linear reading
Ooh, Steven Johnson turns the traditional “we must read books” argument upside down in his forthcoming book, All Bad Things Are Good For You. Here’s an excerpt from his blog:
Many children enjoy reading books, of course, and no doubt some of the flights of fancy conveyed by reading have their escapist merits. But for a sizable percentage of the population, books are downright discriminatory. The reading craze of recent years cruelly taunts the 10 million Americans who suffer from dyslexiaóa condition didnít even exist as a condition until printed text came along to stigmatize its sufferers.
But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashionóyou simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. For those of us raised on interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing. Why would anyone want to embark on an adventure utterly choreographed by another person? But todayís generation embarks on such adventures millions of times a day. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though theyíre powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; itís a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to ‘follow the plot’ instead of learning to lead.”
Steven Johnson studied at Brown when Brown was the only university teaching hypertext and electronic literature, and his first book was Interface Culture, shows his knowledge of hypertext theory and literature. His more recent books are a little more mainstream (well, sort of) and I rather like this approach: simply take it for granted that your readers will agree that the current generation was raised on interactive narrative and that this will make them discontented with linear narratives that require their submission. It’s the exact opposite argument to that put forth in the NEA’s recent report on the supposed death of reading, or at least of print novel-reading.