Call me a nuanced curmudgeon.
I’m not so bothered by the AMOUNT of time that teenagers spend with the internet and/or digital devices as by the lack of QUALITY of their pursuits.
I’m reacting to the recent Drudge Report headline “A third of teens haven’t read a single book in past year.”
Researchers from San Diego State University, analyzing four decades’ worth of data and publishing the results in the journal “Psychology of Popular Media Culture,” show traditional reading devastated by texting, social networking, aimless web surfing and addictive video games.
For instance, in the late ’70s, 60 percent of 12th-graders read a book or magazine almost daily; by 2016, even with the availability of Kindle and similar devices, only 16 percent did.
Printer John Peter Zenger risked prosecution for seditious libel in order to hold the colonial governor of New York accountable. Abraham Lincoln read by firelight. Sequoyah painstakingly developed a symbol for each syllable in the Cherokee language. Today’s kids? “Wash…hands…after…using…restroom. Do those 25-year-old fossils think we have all day to read these interminable instructions???”
Sure, my generation had shortcuts such as “Classics Illustrated Comics” and Cliff’s Notes; but some of us were glad that Shakespeare’s immortal words were more complex than “Just hanging out. You?”
Yes, we had to learn a lot of things the hard way; but we also benefitted from the accumulated knowledge of prime ministers and explorers and inventors. We pondered the commandments brought down from the mountaintop on two tablets. That’s a far cry from hanging on every word of some nitwit who brings out two Tide pods on YouTube.
We used to be able to take lifelong lessons from even the driest literature. I direct you to the movie “Dead Poets Society.” But now we’re more likely to hear, “Seize the day? I can’t even seize my car keys. I’ve got carpal tunnel syndrome from texting.”
Older Americans share a priceless common bond when we can remember where we were when we first saw newspaper photographs of the Kent State riots or John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his fallen father. Fifty years from now, today’s adolescents will probably reminisce, “Remember that girl who sent a topless photo to that boy she sort of liked, and it went viral? Should’ve won a Pulitzer! Should’ve won a Pulitzer!”
Sometimes you need something substantive that makes you THINK. And I don’t mean like “Your post on Snapchat made me think…that I’d better get a catheter, so I don’t miss one minute of the big video game tournament!”
Don’t get me wrong. A number of teens (including my son the sophomore) do share my passion for reading. They learn something from essays and sermons and manuals and investigative pieces and manifestos.
And herein lies the real division of “haves” and “have nots” in our country in the coming years. Youngsters who “get” reading will have life more abundantly. The willfully ignorant will miss out on all the jokes and literary allusions that zoom over their heads. They’ll be blindsided when history repeats itself and throw a hissy-fit when no one tells them about the town hall meeting to discuss zoning ordinances.
Maybe they’ll really get a comeuppance in the ROMANCE department.
“Want me to play the Naughty Librarian, handsome?”
“What’s a librarian?”
“Never mind. *Sigh* What’s the Cherokee phrase for ‘Get lost, loser’?”
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”