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.
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.
Am 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.
Are 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.