Reading, Literature, and Literacy in the Mobile Digital Age

Reading, Literature, and Literacy in the Mobile Digital Age

John Fawsitt (Kibi International University, Japan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3576-9.ch005
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Reading and literature are struggling for relevance an environment where attention and the data they provide are seen as key motivators for commercial actors, and there is great pressure for those actors to provide engaging media to secure a meaningful market share. Thus, this media has to attract and keep user attention as quickly and as continuously as possible. The only limiting factors being those of time and energy of the user. Leisure hours that allowed periods for unbroken concentration and perusal of written texts are now devoted to online activities. What is not debated is that the effort and focus required to engage with the writer of fiction or other longer texts cannot be as automatically assumed now as it was before the digital age. Therefore, how can or should reading and literature and our notion of them and their purposes change?
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The ultimate focus of this article is on the place of reading and literature in the academic lives of university students in the face of widespread adoption of digital and M-learning. Reading, accompanied by discussion and writing, has long been the staple of a humanist education. It is felt that exposure to and the process of trying to understand other thinkers and their ideas enriches and trains the human mind to comprehend and evaluate their existences, world, and values and to use this knowledge to live a richer and better life whatever they judge that to be. It could be said to be the core of a classical humanist education. The word classical implying that it is no longer the only form of humanist education available. The changes brought about by the advance of science have altered our perceptions and needs so much that there has been a change in what people seek and expect to achieve when they attend university. However, it is not yet clear how much continuity will be exhibited and in which direction our relationship with technology will evolve.

What Is “Reading”

“Over time a crucial part of basic reading and literacy skills has come to be so-called“deep reading”, that is, reading of long and potentially complex, linear texts requiring sustained mental focus over an extended period of time (e.g., essays; novels and short stories; articles;expository texts). Due to digitization, reading is becoming more intermittent and fragmented, and long-form reading is in decline” (Mangen 2014).

Reading in this context is taken to mean extended engagement with a longer text containing information that is offered as material for further thought or to be in some way related to other concepts or data. Examples would be the reading of literary works such as a novels, biographies, histories, journals, philosophical works, treatises etc. These works need not be exclusively of an artistic nature. Engagement with these types of work has been seen as providing both information and intellectual exercise for all of the faculties including those of reasoning, memory, analysis, and comparison. This provides material for expression and discussion based on experiences and opinions other than our own which we can evaluate in the light of what we know about ourselves and our world. The reverse is also true in that we can perceive our own world in the light of what we have read. While much literary work is of a subjective nature and sometimes can appear limited in scope; juxtaposed with other and our own interpretations it can provide a more objectively informed position to evaluate the choices we and others make or have made in our lives. Central to this activity is sustained engagement.

In contrast what comes to our attention online especially on mobile platforms is more likely to have been chosen for us by algorithms on the basis of our own previously expressed preferences. Whether that expression was give consciously or not. Overwhelmingly the material is of a current, personalised, immediate and usually directly informative or entertaining nature. The algorithm's processes are opaque and we can not be sure as to whether they align with our values rather than our tastes. If a person wants to read about great people. Then perhaps the algorithm can deduce that the person is a pale pink or orange male of a certain age and so provides material that deals with such people to the exclusion of other genders and colours. The purpose of the algorithm not being to educate and empower but to return a profit to its shareholders. This is not to belittle the sensitivity of algorithms which can be adjusted to suit the most exquisite of ethical outlooks. At present however it remains that the material read online is that which will ensure our continued use of the site, app, or platform.

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