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Thumbing Through Some Summer Reading

old books resized.gifOne of the best things about summer is more time to read. There are books beside my chair. There are newspapers on the kitchen counter. There are magazines on the coffee table. And there is, of course, this screen on my desk. My son keeps telling me I need a Kindle. But while I communicate and publish digitally, I prefer to read off the printed page. As I sat reading my print version of The Washington Post I found a soulmate in Kathleen Parker who maintains that how we access reading has changed how we interact with what we read and write.

The tactile experience of reading is also crucial to my reading pleasure. Holding a book compares to nothing short of a baby's contact with his favorite blankie... We are all part of this immense digital experiment and we know not where it leads. But the tactile vacuum inherent in the medium can't be insignificant.... Reaching out and touching someone has become easier than ever, but we never really make contact. Hunkered over our keyboards, tapping and clicking messages to the vast Other, we have become a universe of lone rangers keeping the company of our own certitude.

Like it or not, how we read is definitely changing. In Smithsonian Magazine's 40 Things You Need to Know About the Next 40 Years issue, I ran across this:

America was founded on the written word....But reading and writing, like all technologies are dynamic....We are people of the screen....Books were good at developing a contemplative mind. Screens encourage more utilitarian thinking... Screen reading encourages rapid pattern-making, associating this idea with another, equipping us to deal with the thousands of new thoughts expressed every day. The screen rewards, and nurtures, thinking in real time.... Using their thumbs instead of pens, young people in college or at work around the world collectively write 12 billion quips per day from their phones. More screens continue to swell the volume of reading and writing.

It is inevitable that the digitization of information is going to change how we read, how we respond to reading and how we use what we read. It is a necessity that education adapt to technology because, just as surely as the printing press revolutionized the world in the 14th century, screens are changing the world humans live in now. My fellow blogger here at TM, Anthony Mullen, recently attended the International Society of Technology in Education conference. He talks about how he saw the future in the instructional tools presented, but, more compellingly, how he saw the future in real time.

A group of middle school children deftly weaved in and out of the crowded exhibition hall. They were wearing yellow shirts with red stripes and moved with the grace and synchronicity of a school of tropical fish. But the truly amazing feat was how they managed to navigate through the crowd while still performing tasks on their cell phones. It was then that I realized how disconnected I was from their world. The middle school students were living in a world dominated by opposable thumbs and I was living in a world managed by my left and right index fingers. The Age of Opposable Thumbs had usurped the forefingers largely responsible for accessing the Digital Age and I missed this seminal moment.

As educators we must adapt or become irrelevant and we must be given the latitude to make decisions about how to integrate and adapt learning to meet the needs of a changing world. It is both daunting and exhilarating. Here comes the future, ready or not.

Thumbs up--full speed ahead.

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