Technological changes may lead to "reading divide"

Thu Mar 17, 2011 6:50am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - The rapid rise of e-books could lead to a "reading divide" as those unable to afford the new technology are left behind, even as U.S. reading and writing skills decline still further.

At particular threat are African-American communities where many students are already falling behind their majority peers in terms of literacy, said award-winning writer Marita Golden -- and this despite the growing ranks of noted African-American writers, such as Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

"My biggest concern is that the technology will continue to widen the gap," she told Reuters. "It won't just be the digital divide but also a reading divide if reading becomes an activity that's now dependent on technology.

"If reading becomes dependent on technology that must be purchased, then I think we may see the literacy divide persist and even widen."

Years of discussion on the future of books amid the sweeping technological changes, along with a desire to make sure black writers were included in that discussion, prompted Golden to pull together her recent book, "The Word," in which African-American writers talk about how reading shaped their lives for the better.

Edward P. Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel "The Known World," said he felt that "reading and writing are the foundations for becoming a better person and having a better life." Others said how reading about lives like their own helped validate their experiences and give them confidence.

In this sense technology, such as e-readers, can be both a blessing and a curse in terms of literacy, Golden said, with some readers who might have been intimidated by the number of pages in a traditional book eagerly reading on an e-reader.

In addition, with the U.S. African-American community owning more mobile phones and BlackBerries than the white community, potential exists to tap into a broad market, she added.   Continued...

<p>A man holds the Kindle DX electronic reader at a news conference where the device was introduced in New York May 6, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer</p>