Well, I am back. The flu seems to have run its course after eight days of fever, bad temper and upper respiratory effluence. I cannot recommend it, except for the fact that I lost 7 pounds. It is nice to sit up in a chair today, answer questions without a scowl, put in my contacts and lay off the drugs.
While I was sick I was following an extremely long and convoluted discussion on LibraryThing about the future of reading and education. Lots of lamenting about today's high schoolers and the primacy of texting as a means of communication, grousing about teaching, lack of critical thinking and on and on. They're right. It's alarming, but I'm not so sure -- with the exception of texting -- that these are recent phenomena. I can't recall that I or my companions in high school were any more likely to express ourselves in sentences, let alone paragraphs. Our utterances may have been more multi-syllabic, but what, after all, does "keep on truckin'" really mean? Today's youth may be more incoherent than ever, but I'd venture to say they communicate at a greater rate about less substantive issues than any group in history.
That sounds suspiciously like faint praise, doesn't it?
Approve of texting or not, the fact is there is nothing we can do about the shifting paradigms that turn language on its ears about every 500 years or so. There's little doubt the internet and other electronic media have affected our ability to concentrate. Why read, when there's one more thing to click on? It's little wonder that the sound bytes that drive our political thoughtlessness should transform into similarly simple exchanges of information characterized by texting, replete with equally dangerous opportunities for misinterpretation. Neither is the disapproval unanticipated -- witness the outcry against Gutenberg when it became evident that literacy might not be the sole turf of the elite. Changes in literacy bring about changes in society -- chain main and book clubs, for example -- and that is what really scares people.
Lamentations make us old before our time. As is always the case, we have to use change, whatever form it takes, because nothing will stop it. I'd suggest that teachers challenge their students to translate the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet into text messages, tweet about what they're reading, create a FaceBook page for Captain Ahab or Blanche DuBois -- anything that the immediate incarnation of communication dictates. Just suck it up. Times change.