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Is the Internet killing reading?

Well, IMHO, no…

One of the questions I am asked most often in classes and in trainings with teachers is about the Internet’s impact on students’ reading. It usually goes something like this…

“Do you think the internet is killing reading?”

I usually wonder silently if using the word “killing” means the asker has already made up her mind.

To be clear, I’m not sure entirely how the internet is changing and reshaping the ways that adolescents (and all of us) read and write. I think we have much to learn in terms of research about that, and we also need time to see what happens next.

But, I can say that when I want to feel hopeful about adolescents and their literacy practices, I head to the internet to be amazed. There are students everywhere reading on their phones and other devices, in classrooms and outside them. I see my own students making fan art for their favorite books using quotes and visual art, and then that work gets passed around Tumblr as fans find one another and build communities. I see kids making book trailers and talking about their favorite books ad nauseam on a variety of platforms. And, I confess to being a true and longtime follower of Nerdfighteria, a community that began with YouTube that now comes together around John Green and his brother Hank Green, to talk books and science and soccer and charity and all around love of learning.

I feel certain we have an opportunity — to capitalize on the wealth of potential that is the internet and find ways to encourage our students to participate, to read more, and to become part of the great community of ‘book people.’ Our students are already doing this, in some cases, without us, their teachers. And I hope someday every student has access to the technology to participate in these communities. I know the technology has already made books more accessible for some.

I always tell those folks who ask me about the death of reading that I feel pretty hopeful about our students. And then I tell them to visit the Call Me Ishmael project, an amazing YouTube channel, and to prepare to cry. The channel features an invitation to call a phone number and leave a voicemail about a book you love. Each day the channel author transcribes one of the messages on a typewriter as the person speaks. And you can go visit to hear why The Outsiders or Divergent or Stargirl or The Sneetches made someone love it. And I marvel at the great beauty of these stories and the internet that lets us tell them so widely and so powerfully.

Christina Dobbs About Christina Dobbs

Christina Dobbs is an assistant professor of English Education at Boston University. She is a former high school teacher, literacy coach, and reading specialist, and she studied adolescent literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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