Sometimes you just have to write…
I just saw a very thought-provoking video clip. I don’t know who made this video, but the description of how adults would react to books comes from a book called Everything Bad is Good for You, by Steven Johnson. The video is only a minute and a half long, and I’d like to respond to it, so please watch it before reading on.
… Johnson may have a point. It made me think of my son, Robert, whom I’ve blogged about before, in relation to teens and violence. He’s addicted to computer games. Well, I suppose I shouldn’t use the word “addicted” since it doesn’t interfere with his life the way real addictions do. He gets himself to school, does his homework (though never past the bare minimum), goes to soccer practice and games, and so on. He also gets a full night’s sleep each night, though that’s often only because I order him off the computer.
So let’s just say he’s very fond of computer games: Minecraft, League of Legends and Borderlands 2 are his current favorites. He’ll spend hours if we let him, and we do let him, once his homework is done, over the weekend, or during vacations.
What’s interesting is that he plays the games in a very social way. He gets on Skype and talks to his friends while he plays. They, or rather the characters in the games they play, cooperate, and they can coordinate what they do within the game through Skype. My son, who is normally rather non-verbal – never using two words when one will do – is quite talkative when he’s playing these games. Granted, there’s a lot of swearing mixed in, but it’s nice to hear him speak in full sentences.
So what Johnson is describing is true: Robert does need manual dexterity to play, he is visually and socially stimulated, he is busy problem-solving in a cooperative way when he plays a game.
Yet I wish that he would read. He only willingly reads graphic novels and comics, and only reads a book when I force him to or he has to read one for school, which isn’t often.
To me, reading isn’t passive or isolating, so that’s where I disagree with Johnson. When I read, I am certainly following the story line presented by the author, but, if the book sparks my imagination, I embellish it in my mind with more detail. For example, if the author describes a particular room, I picture that room, constantly reinventing it as the author releases more information about what it looks like, and filling in from my own imagination whatever the author isn’t telling me. I do the same with the characters and the action. And I respond emotionally as well, depending on what is happening. This is anything but passive.
I suppose you could say reading is isolating in that it’s something you generally do alone, once you’re old enough not to need your parents to read to you. Yet I have great conversations sometimes about books, especially in my book group and in my lessons. People share experiences and memories that are sparked by what they read. That’s not isolating; on the contrary, it brings us closer together.
So should I accept that my son doesn’t want to read? Am I doing him harm by letting him play video games so much? Is reading inherently better? Or is Johnson right and I shouldn’t worry about it?
My son just read what I’ve written so far and, in his typical laconic style, handed the computer back to me with the comment “Yes, no, no, yes.”
What do you think? I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on this question. Feel free to add a comment below, or to share this post with friends.