As a member of Generation Z, I cannot understand what the world looked like before the Internet. This is the world Nicholas Carr describes in his opinion piece where he poses the question: Is Google making us stupid? Not being able to immediately access information sends me into a state of anxiety. How did anyone write all of their research papers via their local library collections? I much prefer the society described by Katherine Fitzpatrick in her essay “Reading (and Writing) Online, Rather Than on the Decline.” In her view, the Internet “allows for the open exchange of ideas; networked, dynamic communication; and the free dissemination of scholarly knowledge” (Churchill).
Nicolas Carr and Kathleen Fitzpatrick offer opposing viewpoints of the effects of reading and writing online. On the one hand, Fitzpatrick argues that the online world creates a “multidimensional conversation that takes place within a community,” (45), while Carr believes that “the Net seems to be […] stripping away [his] capacity for contemplation and concentration.” Fitzpatrick’s analysis offers a broad view to say that in general, online communication offers the benefit of collaboration and shared knowledge. Carr focuses on how the digital age affects his learning, declaring that he can no longer think critically and wants our society to revert to a focus on literature. Carr complains that in his experience “[today’s reading] is a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking,” while Fitzpatrick counters with the view that maybe this change isn’t so bad. Carr’s insistence to ignore the greater benefits of online reading paints him as part of the “elite group of cultural producers and consumers,” (42) that Fitzpatrick references when she claims that those who most fear the growing popularity of reading and writing online desire for a monopoly on scholarly media. Fitzpatrick has a noteworthy understanding of how beneficial online access to information is for communities outside of the targets for scholarly journals, such as those in high school and folks without college degrees. In my opinion, it is crucial to understand the advantages of reading and writing online for marginalized communities and what it means for our progress towards an equitable society.
One way that I participate in the digital sphere is on Twitter. The ability to share ideas with communities lacking in academic resources is a revolutionary contribution to our society. Marginalized voices can now declare their stances on global issues and reference their own experiences to an international audience, allowing readers to think outside of their narrow spheres. However, I recognize that Twitter also includes quick-paced, often inaccurate information that can harm our ability to communicate effectively and civilly.
I am a regular Twitter user, and have been for years. My feed has ranged from memes to popular culture and liberal news, but now focuses on the lived experiences of vulnerable and marginalized communities. When I was in high school, Twitter sparked inspiration for my political judgments. This social network allows me to hear directly from marginalized groups that do not have access to publishing deals and higher education that would deem them “credible” to comment on their own experiences on a platform that is worthwhile for scholars. Those in the Global South, disabled folks, and low-income populations are just a few perspectives that have contributed to my current understanding of our world. Twitter was and continues to be my starting point for much of my learning.
Imani Barbarin is a Black and disabled woman who I have followed on Twitter for several years. On Twitter and her blog, crutchesandspice.com, I frequently read about her life as a Black disabled woman that, in my experience, are untold by mainstream literature and scholarly media. Throughout my years of schooling, I have never encountered anything relating to disabled people that tells their stories from their point of view. Twitter fills in this gap. Imani Barbarin wrote an eye-opening piece about how plastic straw bans affect disabled folks, which is a viewpoint that I did not see from any “reputable” news sources. She explains the risks that these bans pose to people like her and demands that politicians, corporations, and everyday people consider disabled people when they act. You can read more about it here, but her point can be summed up with one sentence:
The straw ban is the symptom of a much larger problem: marginalized stories and histories are unimportant to people that have far too much power over their lives.
She’s right- before the Internet, marginalized stories weren’t told the way that they need to be. Twitter allows her to streamline her views that are necessary to understand to create an equitable society.
Despite its benefits, Twitter has its flaws. Short snippets are not enough to truly understand complex issues. When learning starts and ends with social media is when reading and writing online becomes ineffective, inefficient, and sometimes even dangerous. 140 characters are meant to be a catalyst for discussion and sharing worthwhile ideas and experiences. True learning comes afterward from further exploration, which can look like articles, videos, and of course, books.
Barbarin, Imani. “The #StrawBan is The Latest Policy Abled Allies are Choking On.” Crutches and Spice, 17 July, 2018. https://crutchesandspice.com/2018/07/17/the-strawban-is-the-latest-policy-abled-allies-are-choking-on/
Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?.” The Atlantic, 2008.
Churchill, Suzanne W. “Debate: What is the architecture of the Internet doing to reading and writing?” (handout). WRI 101: Building Stories. Davidson College. Fall 2019.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “Reading (and Writing) Online, Rather Than on the Decline.” The Modern Language Association of America,” 2012, pp 41-51.
This piece was written for Writing 101, Building Stories.