"Twilight of the Books" is a much better article than the title suggests. Caleb Crain isn't an alarmist, doesn't rely on the NEA study, nor does he target the internet. Instead this New Yorker piece examines the history of reading and literacy, and is well worth the read.
It offers many nice touches, such as framing the issue internationally, rather than as an American problem (at least at first, and the piece is clear about its scope when focusing on the US). Rather than flailing at the internet or bashing the general specter of electronic media, Crain returns to television critique, then embeds that within internet critique, disaggregating web video from the rest of the net. And he summons up this wonderful nineteenth-century exchange about reading versus conversation:
Ruskin once compared reading to a conversation with the wise and noble, and Proust corrected him. It’s much better than that, Proust wrote. To read is “to receive a communication with another way of thinking, all the while remaining alone, that is, while continuing to enjoy the intellectual power that one has in solitude and that conversation dissipates immediately.”
The center of gravity for the article is a mix of Walter Ong's orality theory with Maryanne Wolf's recent book, Proust and the Squid. Crain follows Wolf's neurological argument, arguing that reading becomes powerful when the process is easy, rather than challenging. This then heightens Ong's description of cultural and psychological differences between oral and post- (or secondary) oral societies. It's the most sensible recent argument I've seen for cultural divergence on reading.
It would be fascinating to apply this model to coding. Would Wolf see programmers thriving on that passage from dorsal to ventral pathways, initial difficulty giving way to easy fluency? And would the proportion of people who code eventually be statistically similar to those who read a good deal?
I'm disappointed in the final argument about print and identity, which really deserves an article for itself. Crain touches on the echo chamber idea, offering a tantalizing suggestion:
It can be amusing to read a magazine whose principles you despise, but it is almost unbearable to watch such a television show. And so, in a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with.
Self-doubt, therefore, becomes less likely.
But this begs engagement with several fields, notably 20th century propaganda, comparative media (consider radio versus film versus tv on this score), tv criticism, and fan studies.