On September 24, 2012, about the 15:30 CST hour (that’s 3:30PM), I posted the following consideration to my social media/facebook page, with the following NPR story link:
Do you think the reason SAT reading scores are crap is because incessant and spastic social media updates have — and without anyone really noticing it — replaced taking the time to detach from said social media for hours on end and read solid literature at length? Yes, I’m posting this question on social media. Thoughts? Here’s the NPR link.
Social media and personal friends were kind enough to offer thoughtful responses. The first came in from Robert K. Kurtz, Marine Corps veteran of the First Gulf War. Unless he is talking about earth homes and the history of earth homes, Kurtz is often brief and to the point.
yes…… nuff said.
The second response came in from Bill Caraher, who is a colleague, friend, mentor, tangent-reciprocator (and I mean that in a good way), and associate professor of history at the University of North Dakota. Caraher said:
Yeah, we forget that for most of human history people didn’t read and when they did, they read in short blasts excerpting seemingly relevant passages from densely nuanced (and largely ignored) texts.
We’ve romanced the idea of solitary, sustained, silent reading and tried to somehow normalize it. As someone who does a good bit of it, I think this is just silly. And the historical precedents for this behavior are temporally pretty shallow.
Social media engages people in their communities, in the world of texts (albeit short ones), and in the life of the mind, and the sooner people get over their turn of the (20th century) notions of intellectualism (and elitism) the better.
Caraher raises a good point, at least hinting at the idea of literacy today and literacy in the pre-Industrial world. At no point in human history has the planet been so populated, and at no point have we lived so long (which, in the evolutionary-biological sense is why we get cancer, since the cells in our body have yet to figure out a way to live this long).
As well, at no point have we been so largely able to access information through the technology that is literacy. You get hints of it in the pre-Industrial world, but not to the standardized and wide-spread degree of today. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we should all be sitting down and reading Gargantua and Pantagruel from the 16th century, or from the 19th century War and Peace (the latter of which was published in pamphlet and serial form when first produced in the 1860s, rather than in one big, protracted, burst; this was Tolstoy’s ode to his Greatest Generation, the veterans and fallen of the Napoleonic Wars from 1805-1815. Every generation harkens back to the previous generation, often nostalgically, definitively to memorialize and never forget.). If everyone would sit down and read W&P, the planet would — ahem — literally — ahem — come to a halt (much in the same way that the planet would come to a halt if we all sat down and incessantly updated our social media statuses — or is the plural statusi?).
Anyhow, the third response came from another friend and practicing lawyer, John Ward:
I blame disco and the sh#t music that is currently popular.
Ward is indeed not a fan of disco, nor pop music. In many ways, Ward is pushing back against a historical precedent (the now) that has created a sub-cultural movement of accepting everything and anything on equal footing. This point comes up in n+1′s P.S.1 Symposium: A Practical Avant-Garde (2006), one of the speakers noting that we are right here and now in an age of research (thus, while we are all researching, we are all individualistically compartmentalized, or something like that). But Ward is saying no, at least to disco and music that is currently popular. I have punk rock Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros playing “Coma Girl” right now as I type, and I’m uncertain if this is what is being played right now on any major (and corporate-owned) radio station. But it’s likely being played on thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) home computers and iPods. And if we didn’t have disco, we wouldn’t have had the punk reaction. So in a side-stepping way, I’m thanking disco, while perpetually refusing to listen to it. Ever.
The fourth response came in from another colleague, friend, mentor, tangent-reciprocator (and I mean that in a good way), and former associate professor of history at St. Cloud State University, Richard Rothaus. Rothaus now pushes global cultural resource discovery, interpretation and management in new directions. Rothaus said:
What was HS [High School] in 1972 now extends into [the] first two years of college. The proliferation of colleges desperate for enrollment provides a system where the lack of standards has no real consequences. Junior can’t read, but he will get admitted somewhere. When he doesn’t complete the degree, that will be the college’s fault, not his HS. The private sector had already calibrated for this. You need a college degree to do work that used to take a high school degree. This exacerbates this problem because everyone thus thinks they have to go to and will succeed in college.
This is another solid point, and something I try to convey to university freshmen and sophomores, this analogy relayed to me through Nick Steffens (who currently resides in SLC, Utah): treat college the same way that you would treat a gym membership. You can purchase the membership, but if you don’t show up and lift weights, swim laps, engage in yoga, or slam it out on that tread mill, then you will see absolutely no benefits in the money you’re forking over for access to the gym. The same goes for university, which is merely trying to cultivate and codify intellect (codified intellect is what we call a “degree,” and degrees require discipline, both in the gym and in academy).
Charles Bauer-Gitter, bibliophile, friend and engaged conversationalist, pushed forward a bit of humility (which we also need, lest we slip into the un-human realm), saying,
For fear of showing my own ineptitude, I’m just going to agree with what Bill and Richard stated above.
Charles leaves us wondering about his thoughts on disco and pop music, but I think he’d be fine with us presuming that he is not all that cool with disco.
Kenneth L. Smith (whom I only know through Social Media — at least I don’t think Kenneth and I have ever met in person) provided literary polemic, at least by way of Mark Bauerlein. Kenneth said,
Mark Bauerlein has done a good job exploring this topic. Incidentally his book title is more inflammatory than his actual thesis. [Kenneth provided a link to Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (2009).
Polemics are often important to generating conversation. And note how the 2009 Bauerlein title falls into thematic continuity with Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1987), or even Richard Hofstadter's 1964 work, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Thinking about this historically, by 1964 the first of the Baby Boomers were entering college and university, and by 1987 the offspring of those Baby Boomers were also entering college and university. I have nothing more to add here. Analysis and interpretation is open.
Rothaus provided the final remark (at least up to this point in my blogging), saying:
Among the learning-to-crowd, the ability to navigate computer games is a huge incentive to learn to read. They almost all can spell MINECRAFT. [caps are Rothaus]
Yes, it is frustrating when you ask someone if they want to read a book with you, and they agree, and then they don’t read the book because they were level-upping the entire time in a role-playing-game. You ask them, “Hey, what did you think about McNeill and McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History (2003)?” The true gamer will side-step this question, and delve into some kind of talk about how he has a bird’s-eye view of history through role-playing-games, leveling up with Mario jumps and so on. Blank stares often follow. Then the two depart and return to their respective research projects.