Impact of the Internet on Literacy

Impact of the Internet on Literacy

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3534-9.ch002
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This chapter explores how the internet has changed literacy from primarily reading and writing to juggling texts, emails, hypertexts, and digital applications on screens for both personal and professional agendas. Instant global access to information provides advantages for learning and communicating efficiently but requires matching the best application for a particular task with the user depending upon age or skill level and places a greater personal responsibility for evaluation and creation of content. The human brain, particularly the attention span, is changing due to the exponential growth and adoption of technological tools for the production and consumption of media in many formats for all age groups from early childhood through the elderly. Issues relating to literacy in the internet age (metaliteracy) are examined through generational life stages.
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“Literacy alone is no longer our business. Literacy and technology are. Or so they must become.” ---Cynthia Selfe, Technology and Literacy in the 21st Century

Life before the Internet, for those of us who remember, felt slower and less hectic. Certainly, people have always been pressured by busy lives and deadlines, but instant access to information and a constant connection with others around the globe has changed communication and literacy in ways we are only beginning to understand. Various age groups may interact with the Internet differently due to background experiences, particularly related to literacy. This chapter looks at how the Internet has influenced all of us at various age levels and how it may be changing the way we think as well as the way we communicate.

Studies on the human brain and the use of the Internet are relatively new, but research is emerging that confirms changes are taking place which validate the need for new insight into literacy or metaliteracy. Alongside the changes in our individual thought processes, our communities and our culture are also changing which leads us once again to examine our cultural moment: metamodernism. A look at the effects of the Internet by age group or generation provides insight into specific metaliteracy needs and concerns such as attention deficit problems or Internet addiction as well as the personal need for reflection and evaluation of information in the post-truth era.



How easy it is to romanticize about times gone by. Each generation loves to exaggerate about walking miles to school in bad weather to teach the young about perseverance and a good work ethic. Yet, we all reminisce, too, about lazy summer days stretched out before us whenever school let out in June. Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That has been an accepted adage that may need some new examination. The Internet changed everything and there is no going back.

Try to imagine a quiet life before computers.

Table 1.
Poem: The Old Library on a Summer Afternoon
The Old Library on a Summer Afternoon
By Valerie Hill
Soft afternoon sunlight blankets the room
While the clock beats a simple tick tock tune.
Screen door snapping shut, feel the summer breeze.
“To the library”, whispers blowing leaves.
Dogs scamper in the cool park, children laugh-
An old man folds his newspaper in half.
Bright pink flowers match a lady’s lipstick-
She smiles, quickens her pace, high-heels click, click
Past the jaunty tune of the ice-cream man.
A grandmother on a bench waves a fan.
Opening the heavy library door,
Silence replaces a loud honking car.
Smell the books in this hushed reverent space.
Tall shelves, card catalog, standing in place.
Old wooden tables, slightly creaking floor-
Strolling aisles, I brush the spines I adore.
So many treasures- red, green, brown, thick, thin -
Beckoning- But I know where to begin.
Third in my summer series meets my eyes-
Plus, oh wait! Serendipitous surprise
One meets an expert, a poet, a bard!
I smile as I sign my name on the card,
Whispering thank you- we exchange a glance.
Heading home, arms full of dreams, hope and chance-
Precious afternoon in the summer shade,
Luxury time- a glass of lemonade.
Savor white puffy clouds, a long slow look-
I breath, deeply breath, and open my book.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Millennials: Individuals born roughly between 1981-1996, who generally are tech-savvy, sometimes attention-seeking and prone to job hopping.

Generation Z: Individuals born after 1997, the first generation to be born into digital culture with no memories of life without Internet access, who easily shift between work and play and are comfortable with multi-tasking.

Traditionalists: People born before 1945, also called the Silent Generation, who generally value hard work, loyalty, old time morals, and the adage “waste not, want not” as many experienced the hard times of the depression.

Baby Boomers: People born between 1946-1964, who generally value work (developed the concept of the workaholic), were the “flower children” of the 1960s, and experienced the change from a print-based world of letter writing to digital culture.

Attention Span: The ability to focus on a task or mental activity for a length of time.

Gutenberg Parenthesis: The 500-year period between the 15 th to the 20 th century in which printed text was valued as the primary foundation of knowledge.

Generation X: The generation born between 1965-1980 (approximately), sometimes called the “slackers” or the “latch-key kids” because they grew up in two-income families with rising divorce rates.

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