It’s an irony so commonplace it’s become almost trite: despite the “information superhighway,” despite a world of knowledge at their fingertips, the younger generation today is less informed, less literate, and more self-absorbed than any that has preceded it. But why? According to the author, an English professor at Emory University, there are plenty of reasons. The immediacy and intimacy of social-networking sites have focused young people’s Internet use on themselves and their friends. The material they’re studying in school (such as the Civil War or The Great Gatsby) seems boring because it isn’t happening right this second and isn’t about them. They’re using the Internet not as a learning tool but as a communications tool: instant messaging, e-mail, chat, blogs. And the language of Internet communication, with its peculiar spelling, grammar, and punctuation, actually encourages illiteracy by making it socially acceptable. It wouldn’t be going too far to call this book the Why Johnny Can’t Read for the digital age. Some will disagree vehemently; others will nod sagely, muttering that they knew it all along.
This review originally appeared in Booklist, May 2008.