This is a world full of video games, movies and rap music clips. You can turn on your TV and find, news, new technology, science, medicine, history, art and even sometimes literature. This gives us the impression that things are to be viewed. If we transfer that perspective to people, they become less interesting to actually meet because they are more comfortable to us when viewed with the kind of detachment we have when we are watching them in a monitor or on a screen.
We want to look at them generally rather than specifically more often and perhaps even by preference. This distancing even changes the way we think about the people we actually meet when we are with them in person because of the tendency to relate them with groups, ethnicities and movements. All this has taken place as a shift in my lifetime with the ascendency of media products such as radio and television. This is because they seem to originate within us, like all of these things were our own ideas. They are sound or sounds and images that seem to start as rather intimate personal experiences. We own them from the first moment we experience them even if we disagree with them.
Other mass media, like newspapers and magazines are, by nature, also an internal experience. It is a different experience than the audio-visual one however because it tends to be one we are easily able to separate ourselves from by doing something as simple as putting the paper or magazine down and sitting there preoccupied by our own thoughts for a few moments. Certainly these are thoughts that can somehow spring from the material we have been reading but still we find ourselves feeling kind of separate from reading and able to disengage.
All this is not to say that reading won’t be something internal, intimate and feeling like a uniquely personal thing. I know I do that too but somehow it happens best when it is on my own terms and not dictated by an ambulance full of edited together two second images shot at my optical nerve machine gun fashion. I sometimes find myself slipping into a trance like state because of something beautiful and pleasant I have been reading. Watching a rap video can also be trance inducing but for me it is more like slipping into a slightly bad dream.
I don’t know how you feel about it but I tend to think of reading and dreaming as being rather similar. Some dreams let you work out problems and, although while not the most pleasant of experiences, they certainly have a useful purpose in life. Other dreams let us experience pleasure and joy that are a much rarer bi-product of real life. They let us dance through meadows barefooted feeling the grass between our toes without even a single sticker or insect bite. They allow us to relax and regroup certain that there is pleasure and joy to come and we can find it, even look for it as we go through our busy days when we wake up.
The point is people who read, look at the world from a different perspective than those of us who have been raised on the television, the movies and the music videos that are so popular today. For better or worse, the world is a different place than the slower, more reflective one that existed before the advent of the visual mass media. So, back to the question that headlined this article: can we give a kid a good reason to read?
Answering that question means that we must come to a value judgment type of conclusion about the relative merits of the two types of experiences we have been taking a look at so far. I wouldn’t be very believable if I told you I had no preference because I am obviously biased toward the slower and more easily disengaged from experience of reading. So let’s parade out the reasons behind that bias a see if it could give us an argument we could use to convince a kid of the value of this seemingly anachronistic persuasion.
I guess I am most biased about the difference in thinking. Call me Orwellian but the visual immediacy of experience seems a lot closer to the idea of mind control than the more self-directed state of the reading experience. I can understand it is easy and convenient to let others do the thinking for you but is it safe? Another part of that same point is that reading gives you time to stop and reflect and you can decide what you really believe in moments like that. The pace of thought is too rapid when someone else is entertaining you by orchestrating your emotional response to allow you such a luxury as in time to reflect. I don’t mean to be alarmist but I see some real dangers in the visually orchestrated entertainment process. Is this an argument, however, that would be useful to persuade a kid with? No, I’m afraid not.
I guess people of my generation are stuck with being out of the fast pace until we can come up with some kind of argument for the reading experience that would seem important to modern children. Well anyway, this seems like a pretty important idea to explore. If you’ve got any suggestions, I’m sure the readers here will be interested to know about them.
Russell H. Ragsdale,
Poet and songwriter,
Author of Book of Aliases
(a poetry collection, which can be purchased electronically at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, and many other outlets)