Students I teach, predominantly Arab, are more likely to bring their smartphones to class than books. I’m sure some professors in the U.S. lament similar trends, but I’ve found the Blackberry-to-book ratio particularly striking in this part of the world.
An ability to digitally multitask is, of course, a marketable skill in the non-specialized workplace. Traditional book reading, though, is associated with important civic and psychological processes, and as younger Arabs are choosing Tweets over Twain and Facebook over Fukuyama when their book reading was seldom to begin with, concern isn’t an overreaction.
More early childhood literacy programs are needed in this part of the world in order to better establish reading as a routine exercise, as is authorship and translation of texts in colloquial dialects so that native Arabic speakers aren’t alienated from book-length arguments. Literacy programs in early childhood and beyond should emphasize leisurely book reading on Blackberrys, iPhones, iPads, and whatever comes next, and must make more children’s books available on these mobile reading devices.
The “shallows” that concern Carr were around in the Arab world before the digital dawn, but now it’s getting even harder to spot oases of books on a drier digital landscape. And the lack of water isn’t necessarily the drinker’s fault.