Jonathan Safran Foer is not the first author to worry about the public’s diminishing interest in the written word in favor of the screen. In this latest article for The Guardian, he worries out loud about our deteriorating relationship with the physical world and with each other. Of course, he has some ideas about what you should be doing instead of obsessively checking social media, and chief among them is concentrating on a good ol’ fashioned book. On the attention required of reading a novel:
Novels demand many things of readers, but the most obvious is attention. I can do any number of other activities while watching a TV show or listening to music, and I can carry on a conversation with a friend while at an art gallery, but reading a novel demands putting everything else aside.
Foer goes on to say that we have increasingly favored expediency over genuine interaction. He calls more expedient methods of communication, ‘diminished substitutes.’ –
‘The problem with accepting – with preferring – diminished substitutes is that, over time, we too become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little.’
Then, in my personal favorite segment of the article, he wonders what future generations will look like, and what kind of world we will envision for our children. He posits that ours may be the first generation to want less for their children.
With each generation, it becomes harder to imagine a future that resembles the present. My grandparents hoped I would have a better life than they did: free of war and hunger, comfortably situated in a place that felt like home. But what futures would I dismiss out of hand for my grandchildren? That their clothes will be fabricated every morning on 3D printers? That they will communicate without speaking or moving? Only someone with no imagination, and no grounding in reality, would deny the possibility that they will live forever. It’s possible that many reading these words will never die.
Insightful and eloquent as ever, John. Let’s hope we can turn this around.
Featured image courtesy of The Atlantic