Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Post-Literate Epoch?

Is the above image a Thing of the Past?

Lately, I’ve been suffering from a bit of… Bloggus Interruptus.
[I'm taking pills for this. Should clear up, soon!]
Haven’t been writing that much, but I’ve been reading a lot, at least.
Like tonight, I spent hours and hours at Chapters, reading a terrific book. Drinking gallons of coffee. Again, though, as I was leaving the store, I thought of how I haven’t been contributing to Bookpuddle very much.
I stopped and browsed at this one book display.

Three giddy young girls were giggling and yipping and yapping nearby, and they sort of sauntered over to where I was.

One of them picks up this book here, Michael Redhill’s new one, Consolation, off the display table, and says:
“Oh my God, no way!
This is the book I did my report on!”

Other Girl → “Was it good?”
First Girl → “My report?”
Other Girl → “No. The book!”
First Girl → “I don’t know. I didn’t read it.”

[They all laugh…. and so do I.]
So now they look at me, because I laughed, but I couldn’t help it.
And it got worse.

First Girl → “It takes place… like it’s in Toronto, and there are two stories going on at the same time in it, and stuff. And I think if I had said more about that I would have got a lot more check marks on my paper? Because, like I did not get very many check marks, and whatever?”

[I swear to God, she said this…. I was nearly peeing myself].

Other Girl → “So like, how do you know all that if you didn’t read it?”
First Girl → “Well, because that’s what it said on the website where I copied and pasted it all from!”

I ran away!
On the escalator, on my way back down to Earth, I thought to myself, “Wow! Now that’s bloggable!”
The youth of our generation are alive and well. There's no doubt about that.
They were giggling.
But, we are definitely living in the Post-Literate Epoch!
Or are we? What's your opinion on this? Your experience? Is this an isolated incident?
Or.... a disease?
I mean, what’s next on the scene?
Ahh, yes!
For those who do not have time to look at the pictures!



Anonymous said...

Bloggus Interruptus is a great term, sounds very Latin!

Thank you for the book/author recommendation. You have for sure some very positive and constructive influence on what I read. Thank you so much. :)

Anonymous said...

What NEED have they of reading, cipriano? What need? They are perfectly happy without it. YOU were reading - but THEY were "yipping and yapping nearby..."
Who was having a more fulfilled day?

And - seriously - whose job is it to show them need? I still think this is the question.

As an instructor in a small high school that employs about 40 teachers. I can engage only about three of them in a discussion about a book. Why only three?

Because most of them have not read one! It's like Twain said, Everyone wants to have read a classic but no one wants to read it.
It takes too long. It’s hard. Their mind wanders. It's a drag. Life's too short.

And you can catch it on the Simpsons (as in Hamlet Redux) or when they make it into a movie.

Joseph Joubert said that children have more need of models than of critics. Who is modeling for them?

Today's kids want to know why. Why should I read?
Can we answer this question?
IF reading is valid…and good readers are generally people who question every such assumption…then we need teachers, parents, models, who show them the lasting rewards of reading. What are they?

One out of four Americans read a book in the past year. Including religious materials. I am not much for statistics, but any fool knows that people don't read like they used to. Too busy. Too many other things to do.

In fact, the skill is not even highly developed in some. I have been requesting a reading teacher in our school for 11 years. No funds. But we are talking about adding another sport.

You had a wonderful question a while back that went sort of all over the place in comparing film and written word. The question really was, Why read?

I maintain that - despite the plodding pace that reading may seem to pose when compared to, say, film or video games, there are things that one gets from the PROCESS of reading that cannot be found in any other endeavor. It is the PROCESS that interests me most. Never mind that when we read we become aware of another. We develop tolerance, understanding, we are inspired. We laugh. We fall in love with the characters and the sound of the words - and even with our reading partners.
Never mind all that.

What I want to know is what happens to the human MIND when it actively engages with text? I say that something VERY important happens.

Marie Winn speaks of television - the plug-in drug - as being an addiction. Building a strong case for this assertion, she points out that the watcher’s brain waves are doing essentially nothing while watching - whether it is Saturday afternoon bowling or a Johnny Depp film (Oh, yeah, I would argue that my brain waves are active watching him... but ok. I give her that.)

Process. That is what we should be looking at. The joys and peripheral benefits of the written words are easily seen. But the process....what's happening there? What happens when we READ that does not happen any other time? The private and ACTIVE process that is taking place is what I would like to talk about. It’s a psychological, a physiological question.

This comment perhaps runs far afield of your question. But not really.
My students sometimes marvel at what I know. [Who doesn't?!!]
I say, "Do you want this? This thing you think I have?"
They say, "YES."
I say, "Then read."

These are the three things I tell my students that they will do when they enter my classroom: They will learn to read well, to write well, and (therefore) think well. OR at least they will be expected to progress in these areas.

Research shows that the three are inextricably linked. Process. I think it’s about process. Not content. Content – the joy of content - is a byproduct. A perk.

Is your little vignette something that represents high school reality?
I would say yes, in my world it is.
True enough: there are many bright (even non-reading bright) aware students today, but more and more the attitudes and reverence for the "old ways" of getting education - including any kind of concentrated reading - are giving way to faster, hipper avenues. Sound byte [bite] culture. I love teenagers. I envy their quickness. Many have an amazing knowledge of global matters. But do I have readers?
Not very many.

As always, enjoyed your posting. Take my games. Take my tv. Even my DVD player. But get your hands off my books.

Cipriano said...

Thank you Matt!
I wish you a great time in Puerto Vallarta!

True, they are happy with their "non-reading".... my question is: --> Is this a sign of the Apocalypse?
Prophesied in Revelation or something?
"In the last days, the yoots will no longer lift a book!"
Have we somehow robbed, and/or cheated them of the glories of reading, because we, before them, have abdicated our bookshelf areas to Plasma TV's?
If so..... may crotch-mites infest our nasal passages, I say!

You are a teacher, apparently. In a high school, which, let's face it, is a much better barometer of the real-life situation than say, a low-school!
What has happened?

And in light of that quotation you cited, from Shania Twain [God, I love her]... I browsed around the lower level of the store, and those same three girls came down there after a while and were in the Bargain Books section where I was, and the same Plagiaristic-Girl commented to her one friend... "Ewww! Jane Austen! Aaaaack!"
I heard her.
This is an important statement, Anonymous:
"Who is modeling for them?"

Wasn't it C.S. Lewis who said: "We read to know we are not alone"?
I wonder if it is fair to say.... based on that statement being true, that if we do NOT read... we ARE, in a very profound sense... alone?
I think there is a valid point to be made for this!

Are we living in the Age of Unawareness?
Unaware of what has gone before us?
Who has thought, before us?
Who, among us, has ever learned anything, that was not taught, that thing?
Can we learn, lest we read?

There is no such thing as learning, void of dialogue. It may be unspoken, yes. But it must be dialogue. Because it must be weighed against whatever "not knowing"... is.

Even if we have learned something from observing how our parent[s] did it.... we learned it because we "read" it, from them.
Reading.... the beauty of it, is that we get to learn so much more than our parents could have ever taught us.
But we've got to read it.
Reading initiates [and necessitates] a CHOICE, that mere listening does not!
Hence, the greatest thing they [our parents] can give us, and the most unselfish thing, is to say..... "Read this. It is more than I can tell you."

This is what we are lacking, in our world today.
Parents who know this.
Because their parents knew it not, ad inifintum.

If there is not a shift, and soon, we will become Neanderthals, driving to work in spaceships!
Yours is the kind of comment that makes me think Bookpuddle is worth existing.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Interesting response, cipriano.

I think you are doing the same thing that I am: lamenting the passing of the process.

One CAN learn from other forms, other mediums, of course.
But I think that it is (partly) the depth of processing and the ability to muse and ruminate over a passage - to say nothing of the aesthetic joy of reading the words, the rhythms - that is lost in other formats.

This is the poem that I attach to my senior students' syllabus. I tell them that it is a metaphor for what the class stands for....

Sometimes running
to yes nothing and
too fast to look
where and at what
I stand and there
are trees sunning
themselves long a
brook going and
jays and jewelry
in all leafages
because I pause.
--- by John Ciardi

Because I pause.. . . Because I stop and scan and bring the message to my inner workings, re-process it...all of that.

Most youths do not know this. They are programmed to move at a rapid pace. I think it is our duty, yes, to pass the torch. I am not sure how we do it.
They can do all the book reports that they are required to do, but if we have not been able to instill a love of reading - a return to reading - within them...what have we really done?

Reading does, as you say, seem to instigate a private dialogue not only with the characters/authors we read (manifest in that desire some of us have to write a marginal remark or two to them as we read) but also within ourselves. It puts us back in touch with that very nearly unreachable self that is forced to funtion at a high level of public observation on a daily basis. The one that cannot be heard above the shouting of Everyday Life.

Thanks so much for the interesting reply. You write a consistently great blog. I really enjoy it.

How do you like the Emma? Have you finished it? This is her new book, eh?

Beth said...

"No way!"
"Yes, way!"

The new lingo. Speaks volumes as to literacy and reading skills.

But, hey, didn't you ever crib from Coles Notes as a kid? I confess, I did. Although I'd always read the book first.

Anonymous said...

The situation is bad but I am not ready to admit yet that it is dire. Like Beth says, borrowing from other sources is something teenagers do. I did it when I was a kid. I always read the book because I was terrified of getting caught, but I didn't always read carefully and would use Cliff's Notes to make it seem like I was really paying attention.

Still, reading among the young seems to be on the decline. But it is in part because of the parents. I know the kids in my and my husband's families that read and love to read have parents who read. The ones that prefer to play video games and watch TV have parents who prefer the same.

Cipriano said...

Thank you for your comment, Beth. Now that I think of it, I was stoned through most of my high school years! So, maybe I am sort of harsh on the "yoots" of our day. [Thing is, I still loved reading the full version of books... mostly Stephen King... I've always been a book purist, even when hallucinating!]

Stefanie, I totally agree with you about parental influence, when it comes to reading. And yet, I myself am a total anomaly. Neither of my parents were readers, yet, I always was one. I would walk to the Regent Park Library as a kid [about ten blocks away] and come back with an armload of books.... AND READ THEM.
I was, and still am today.... WEIRD!

Anonymous said...

I am very glad you are so weird Cip :)

Isabella K said...

Here's a thought: we read (used to read) to know about worlds outside our own; now we have other ways to do that.

(I'm not sure I believe that; just throwing it out there...)

Anonymous said...

I had a somewhat similar experience with Romeo and Juliet in a Borders store....

Unknown said...

While this finds itself to be an extremely old topic, I simply wanted to thank the author and the contributors for what was an extremely great discussion that has inspired me to pen a Tumblr post and perhaps a more extensive Wordpress entry on this sort of social solipsism. I stumbled upon this entry because it shares the same name as my blog, "The Literate Epoch". I am glad I did.