Thursday, July 27, 2006

They're not reading

Just got back from two rainsoaked days at the beach. It was a multigenerational gathering, from ten year old boys to an 85-year-old grandfather. Fourteen people in one room makes for strange, compulsive behavior, I find. The ones who need food for comfort, nosh. Great stuff for the ten years olds (who don't eat it): glazed donuts in particular. Guess who can't resist them? Hint: everyone older than 16.

What the kids can't resist is their video game--the same sports video game they've been playing for four or five days, whenever they were in the house. The only time it's not going on is when everyone's on the beach (not at all in this weather), or when the adults commandeer the set for a movie or live baseball game, or more crucial, a weather update.

We've created monsters, folks--the medium, not the people. We've embraced TV to give us space from the stress of constantly monitoring of our kids and TV has morphed into video games, which have the added attraction of compulsivity. So now the parents have to pursue their activities to the accompaniment of constant noise from the box. If they have children around all the time, I don't think they even hear it. And the kids, instead of reading and stretching their brains, instead of actually creating something, just burrow into the repetition of a game that goes nowhere.

It goes beyond this, actually. If you want silence in public--so you can read or write or just work on something more complex than Paris Hilton's new whatever without having to expend energy tuning out distractions--just about the only place left is a library. Even the coffee emporia where laptops proliferate pipe in music. My son actually requires music in order to write.

What happens when the power goes out? This is what I want to know. When the power grid is overloaded by the increasing need for airconditioning to protect us from the effects of global warming, what are these children going to do? What if this constant barrage of electronic stimulation has actually altered the hardwiring of the brain? Will they be able to function? Will they be happy in the rising heat, in the steroid plumped houses with a room for every function and twelve foot ceilings and windows that don't open? What will they do with the silence?

Will books still exist?


  1. Well, there are a range of viewpoints on this. Books themselves are portable and require no electronic powersource. As such, they are unlikely to disappear…even if the world returns to a state more like the turn of the 20th Century where only the very educated (or very rich) owned books. Witness the American office-place where despite a barrage of emails, PDFs and Powerpoints, the first thing everyone does with anything important is hit PRINT.

    As for literacy…it is arguably a more crucial tool now than ever. People may stop speaking to each other, as plugged in as they are today, but they sure as hell aren’t going to stop reading and writing to each other. Text messaging, IMs, Blogs…these are a far way from the hours spend on landlines among Gen Xers when they were tweens and teens.

    What you should worry about is the physical cost of a sedentary lifestyle. By active “play” on a computer or tv screen versus outside, kids are more likely to face serious issues with obesity. Check out the CDC’s site developed to combat this challenge:

    As for the games turning children’s minds to mush, there is an interesting point of view put forth by author Steven Johnson in his book: “Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter”. Right or wrong, his observations are interesting.

  2. At least the video addicts in the bunch were being physically active (soccer, swimming, running, etc.) when the heavens weren't disgorging buckets of water over everything. And they're all thin. Ah, youth.