Lost Art? Really?

Ok… a friend of mine posted this article, The Lost Art of Reading, on my Facebook page yesterday.  You can pretty much guess what it’s about.  The author proposes that, in this culture of constant buzzing, finding the quiet mental space to commune with a book is becoming increasingly rare.

8-19-09-twilight-crowd.JPGMy question then is, Why are teenagers, the ones who are most inundated with this scattered stimulation, reading more than ever?

I should admit a bias right here.  Despite my love of the sinisiter ‘what -ifing’ of science-fiction, I have little tolerance for people who say, “X is ruining the world.”  In my lifetime already, Sesame Street, video games, and, most dangerously, ‘certain’ books have all been accused of bringing civilization to an end as we know it.

But I will concede a point to the author.  It is, of course, important to find time and space in your life for reading.  And his end conclusion is undeniable, this can be difficult.  I’m just not sure that equals technology ruining books.

I’ve been encountering this feeling a lot recently.  Another article I read recently bemoaned lost childhood.  Children, it says, aren’t given the freedom and space to imagine, be alone, have adventures.  I agree that this is often true, but only with a for certain section of the population.  In my neighborhood, kids are still tearing around on bikes, playing clapping rhythm games (really), and buying ice cream from the guy with the cart.  And this is not main street, small town USA.  This is a street of old (and I don’t mean antique or classic) apartments in LA directly behind a strip mall. A place where we have the unique combination of flashing police lights and yard sales.

7-19-09-fans-and-bookshelves.jpgAm I still on point?  I think I am.  Every generation is different and every other generation foretells the fall of civilization based on these differences.  Has Facebook and blogging and texting changed our world? I answer with an emphatic YES.  But has this led to reading become a lost art?  I don’t think so.

I will offer another illustration of this attitude.  At the risk of offending a great author and those who are fans of his, I will mention a speech I recently heard by Richard Peck.  Now Richard Peck is a incredible writer and speaker. I remember in junior high reading Are You In The House Alone while I was babysitting.  Big mistake. I was scared out of my mind and yet I couldn’t put the book down.

And Richard Peck’s talk held the same riveting quality.  During his stunning speech at the SCBWI Summer Conference, I both laughed and cried and I’m not exaggerating.  More than that, I took away a meaningful understanding of why we write for children that I will keep with me for a very long time.

But I was also unnerved.  In his charismatic speaking style he railed against the vacuum of MySpace (a paraphrase) and a world in which teenagers text at the dinner table.   It wasn’t Richard Peck saying this that made me uneasy, it was the audience’s reaction.  I watched a room full of people who are speaking to, and often for, the younger generation get caught up in this panning of technology.  I find it dangerous that the very people who profess to give voice to the pain and experiences of childhood were also deriding the very tools that generation holds dear.

8-19-09-twightlight-fans.JPGAre there crappy, stupid things about MySpace or blogging or Twitter? Yes.  But there is also a chance for teenagers and kids to reach out and connect in a way they never could before.  A way for someone who doesn’t fit into their small town to know that there is a larger world out there.  People like them.  There is a way for high schoolers to feel empowered, speaking in voices that the Gatekeepers can’t silence.

The opportunities for this technology are exciting and endless, and yes, scary.  But they are worth exploring, understanding, and giving credence.  These are the tools of our readers and it is making them active participants in this world in a whole new way.  And this will be good and bad and most of all, it will be fascinating.

7 Comments

Posted August 19, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

Hi Sara! Caught this from a link through Facebook. Great post! I like the point that these technological advances are giving teens an opportunity to connect, whether that’s with their favorite authors or with other teens sharing their experiences across the world.

Technology is just necessary now, and I find it funny that some adults bemoan such sites. In some ways, it’s a delightful twist: teens telling the adults to “eat their broccoli” when it comes to these changes.

A place where we have the unique combination of flashing police lights and yard sales. Ahhh, I *heart* L.A. for this very reason. In what other city is the “ghetto bird” (helicopter) hovering day and night? Only in L.A. :D

Sara
Posted August 19, 2009 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

Nice irony:) “Eat your broccoli.” I like that. I did end up wondering while I was writing this post if the ‘buzzing’ of technology is heard much louder by older generations. Perhaps it is more distracting to them because they aren’t used to it and haven’t found creative uses for it.

But by the time I got to the end of that thought, it just felt like making excuses. And just adding to the already broad generalities being made by these articles.

And I love LA for the same reasons. The contradictions and the bizarreness of the place makes it heaven for a writer.

Posted August 19, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

This is such an important issue you’ve eloquently addressed – how access to technology and social networking empowers children – and makes them more informed as well. Kids used to spend hours on the phone – now they text at the dinner table. Whether it’s TV, video games, or the Internet competing for attention – there’s still time for reading.

tony
Posted August 19, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

i think it’s funny how adults are always so concerned about kids doing ‘the right things’ like making sure that they have time for reading, not texting at the table, and the like. how often do you see adults that talk on their cellphones in the restaurant while their dinner date sits there looking bored? or businessmen and women who miss important events because of work? who never stop and enjoy a sunny day, much less read a book, because they’re too disctracted by meetings, phone calls, and their blackberries?

it seems to be a lot of “do what i say, don’t do what i do” going on, and i think that adults don’t give kids enough credit. if anything, kids are more likely than their grownup counterparts to make an escape from the daily routine and distractions of technology to find some peace and quiet when they realize that they need it.

i’m sure adults recognize what they’re doing and they want to keep their kids from adopting the same habits of not knowing when to make time for themselves, but they shouldn’t pull out the straw man of technology to try and make their case. technology is a tool, not a harbinger of the end of civilization.
besides, i’m sure that parents of the past hated it when their children were always getting telegrams instead of taking time to write a simple letter. and don’t get me started! it’s as if they never learned the english language!

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Posted August 19, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

Great post, Sara. Poo-pooing social networking sites is just silly. Someday somebody is going to create a rich and engaging narrative experience using the very same technology. And then people will wonder how we ever got along without it.

Posted August 19, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

Damon fwd’ed me that same article a couple days ago. Ironically, I couldn’t bring myself to read it.

This post is awesome.

I just went and read the article, btw (to see what I had missed). It seems to me the author is complaining about something he just happened to connect to technology and tweeting, etc. (and that he noticed while in the act of reading) but that in fact we all suffer from. It’s called Growing Older. I was complaining about lack of focus years ago (before twitter or even texting existed) and Irvin’s advice to me was to read (and specifically to read something difficult–-not children’s books which I was devouring every day. For this I chose Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed). I wasn’t looking for blame in lifestyle/environmental/technological/cultural shifts. The mind has to stay in shape.

Also, props to Tony for the telegram analogy. I love that.

Sara
Posted August 21, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

I do love the telegram analogy too:)

And you’re right, it’s not just the ‘kids these days’ thing. It’s more that it irks me that technology is often the reflex scapegoat. Video games=violence. Technology=ruining books. I’m not saying that there is an absolute yes or no to these ‘correlations,’ just that there are much deeper issues in our society that lead to our behaviors. It’s always easier to blame video games than it is to tackle gun rights or poverty or kids who feel abandoned by society.

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