Last year in my AP Lang & Comp classes, we read “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, published in The Atlantic in 2008. Many students were set off just by the title and took Carr’s argument personally, even though the “us” of Carr’s title includes himself and his highly-educated colleagues. Carr argues that the tools we use influence the way we think, and he speculates on the impact of a tool as powerful as Google to direct our thinking. Most students vehemently defended technology as wholly beneficial to their everyday experience, even arguing that a shortened attention span is not necessarily a detriment and even a worthy sacrifice for the breadth of information to be gained. However, many had trouble distinguishing between “information” and “knowledge.”
We discuss and experiment with so many ideas for students to develop the habits of a writer, even down to the practical tools — both “analog” and digital — for doing so. And we all have our own. One of my most prolific students keeps everything on her phone, including her award-winning spoken-word poetry complete from draft through final version (although she dutifully complied with the traditional notebook requirements of the course). Mariana swears by the Notes app on her phone in addition to her written notebook. I’ll use my Notes app when it’s the only tool I have, but I always forget about it.
I’ve always been a napkin scribbler. Even my notebook is an assemblage of scraps, some of which do lose context when I return to them. Still, most of the scraps elicit entire experiences or trains of thought because of the legibility of my scrawl or the color of the ink. When I use the insights from Roxane Gay’s talk in my teaching, I’ll always picture the orange ink bleeding through that napkin and the way I had to write around the grease spots. And I’ll remember the event, being there with Mariana, drinking wine, listening to Roxane Gay’s lovely, distinctive voice as she talked about the power of our stories (more on Gay’s insights in a future post). For me, indistinct lines of digital type on the same tool I use to pay bills and order takeout becomes more like information rather than inspiration. But I can’t help but feel outdated and outpaced.
And this is to say nothing about the role of the digital world in our students’ reading lives, which Amy discusses here. Maybe it’s inevitable that physical books and paper notebooks will go the way of snail mail and brick-and-mortar. For the near future (i.e., next year), I’m holding to the requirement of a physical book for independent reading and a physical notebook for quick writes and writer’s craft lessons.
Has anyone made the switch to a fully digital reading-writing workshop? I’d love to hear about your experience. What is lost and what is gained?