Is the Internet a barrier or a bridge for young adults?

By Christine Rogers

Is literacy in danger because of technology? Will students stop reading and writing all together because they spend lots of time on the computer?

I have talked to some parents who legitimately worry about their children slipping away from the traditional ways of books, pen and paper. Afraid of change and yearning for a return to the “good old times,” some worry that technology they do not understand or use will destroy the children’s motivations to read and write. Not familiar with sites such as Facebook, Twitter, deviantART, YouTube and other blogs or forums, some parents cannot participate in the activities of their children, adding a fear of being disconnected from their children and leaving them with feelings of inadequacy.

Along the same lines, science fiction shows such as Syfy’s upcoming Caprica, will display a world where technology is run amok, used by a lazier younger generation. Yet it’s doing the exact opposite in our world: it’s sparking a definite, driven creativity that’s enabled by technology, rather than hampered or perverted by it.

My students and I worked on a project to explore the Battlestar Galactica universe, where I participated in online discussions with fans on the SyFy forum. I discovered groups of educated persons worldwide joined by the same passion for this show, often discussing philosophy, psychology, science and politics. In this particular fandom, young women especially would not only participate to the forum, but flood the web with related creations on LiveJournal and other social networking sites, writing fan fiction, publishing digital art and editing music videos. This new creative virtual dimension, where people communicate without restrain under the protection of anonymity, exists away from every day life. I started to wonder how widespread this phenomenon was, who it appealed to, and if this was happening with some of my students.

A high school student sits in detention. During class, she does not take notes, never hands in homework and none of her teachers can make her write a decent essay. Yet during detention, she writes to publish online. Based on existing characters, her stories are fan fiction, which explore relationships with surprising sharpness, unfolding in psychological drama, and often based on personal experience. Certainly not all of these writers are poorly-achieving young high school students. The diversity of fan fiction writers is staggering, from the high school and college student, to the professional writer, the stay-at-home mother, the professional career woman or the retired grand-mother. But from my limited experience, I have noticed that it is mostly a female phenomenon, although I have not yet found any studies, which addresses the reality of this gender discrepancy or its causes.

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