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Creating Content Creators?

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At Columbia University—one of a diminishing number of schools with a humanities-heavy core requirement—English majors fell from ten per cent to five per cent of graduates between 2002 and 2020, while the ranks of computer-science majors strengthened.

“Until about four years ago, I thought it was a reversible situation—that those who profess the humanities hadn’t been good enough at selling them to students,” James Shapiro, an English professor at Columbia, told me in his office one day. He had worried his graying blond hair to a choppy peak. Photographs of Shakespeare productions he has worked on were perched among the books on his shelves, which were close-packed. “I no longer believe that, for two reasons.”

One reason was the way of the world. Shapiro picked up an abused-looking iPhone from his desk. “You’re talking to someone who has only owned a smartphone for a year—I resisted,” he said. Then he saw that it was futile. “Technology in the last twenty years has changed all of us,” he went on. “How has it changed me? I probably read five novels a month until the two-thousands. If I read one a month now, it’s a lot. That’s not because I’ve lost interest in fiction. It’s because I’m reading a hundred Web sites. I’m listening to podcasts.” He waggled the iPhone disdainfully. “Go to a play now, and watch the flashing screens an hour in, as people who like to think of themselves as cultured cannot! Stop! Themselves!” Assigning “Middlemarch” in that climate was like trying to land a 747 on a small rural airstrip.

Ed. Note: The quality of those hundred websites and the podcasts will diminish as we stop creating the content creators.

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