While I was working on putting together a newsletter for an association I belong to, I needed a quote on reading. I came across this one by Groucho Marx, “I find television very educating. Ever time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” I relate well with the comment as I have never seen much educational value in the television and would much rather read a good book than stare at what my mother always called the boob tube. Dr. Harold Bloom in his book, How To Read and Why, said this to the issue, “A childhood largely spent watching television yields to an adolescence with a computer, and the university receives a student unlikely to welcome the suggestions that we must endure our going hence even as our going hither: ripeness is all. Reading falls apart, and much of the self scatters with it.” (pg. 23).
I have seen this in the College environment as fewer students can be found reading in the lounge areas. Instead they are staring numbly at their phones or ipads. When I can steal a glance on their screens it is most of the time of videos or movies. Which is why I am glad Dr. Bloom brought up the computer as for High School and College students they get much of the media watching on the computer and now ipads. How does staring at these screens for hours help anyone develop stronger thinking skills or creativity? With the constant barrage of videos and movies the mind is mostly passive. They do not think through what they are seeing as there is not enough time to think as the images come too fast. So for the most part, this activity does not build critical thinkers. The students will even say they are not thinking just watching as they want to chill out. Where is the creativity of the mind as well? The videos and television spoon feed the creativity as there is nothing for the imagination to work with. All the creativity is given. In a book the mind is actively seeking meaning of what the author is saying. In a story the reader is encouraged to expand the mind and see the mountain scenery, what the space alien looks like, or the chase scene looks like. So reading builds creativity skills where the television promotes a mediocre mind at the best.
In a culture that does not encourage reading just mind numbing media watching we then wonder then why college students complain about having to read textbooks. Society wonders why these college graduates can not communicate professionally after they graduate when all they know how to do is stare at images on little squares of plastic? Of course it is not just young people as our culture is degrading away from being readers, and instead near all constantly are found to be mind numbingly staring at the cell phone. It is affecting all ages. Recently our family was at a restaurant and there was an older couple with most likely their older son in the next booth. All three had cell phones out either blankly staring at them or their thumbs were wildly moving texting. We all three just looked at each other shaking our heads in unbelief. Food was the only thing that could pull them from their little squares of plastic. What does the future hold with this activity increasing? As a Counselor -- possibly steady work in working with people with communication disorders. I would rather see people growing in their minds and self being, which is one by product of a society that encourages reading.
I am not totally against television -- there are some beneficial shows. There is also a point to the issue that for some a mind numbing show can be a stress reliever. My concern is do you need 3-4 hours of that kind of stress relief during the evening? Do you then need in every free moment to stare at one of your favorite shows or videos over and over again on your cell phone? Do you need that much passive input in to your mind without actively thinking? One news radio I was listening to in the car during a commute was mentioning back during the Party Conventions for the Presidential race more people were watching a show called Honey Boo-boo than the conventions. Here we were at a crossroads as a country economically and other struggles, and people wanted to watch a show called Honey Boo-boo? To me that is a sad state of affairs. My wife and I just once watched the show to see what people were so excited about and we quickly turned it off in disgust after 10 minutes. It goes back to critical thinking of what are people feeding into their minds? What we feed into our minds has an effect. I believe even more so for the passive media watchers there is an effect unconsciously. If it doesn’t why would companies spend millions for 30 second commercials?
This brings me full circle back to Groucho Marx’s comment at the beginning. How are you using your free time? What are you feeding your mind with? I am not saying do away with all media watching but to build your mind and personal creativity add some reading in to the mix. I will end with another quote by Dr. Harold Bloom, “Ultimately we read – as Bacon, Johnson, and Emerson agree – in order to strengthen the self, and to learn its authentic interests.”
Reflection: What are you reading as you start your New Year? Go to your local library and look through the topics you enjoy and find a few new books you wish to read this year. If you commute try listening to audio books as you drive.