Monday, May 30, 2011

Think About Solitude, Part 2

(If you haven't read my original post, Think About Solitude, I encourage you to do so--but you do not need to have read it to make sense of Part 2.)

I recently read The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (which I mentioned briefly in Think About Books, Part 2). It was a fascinating book and I will probably refer to it in several upcoming posts. It's one of those books that I keep pondering, even though I finished it two days ago. That seems an appropriate reaction, too, since thinking deeply (or, critically) is one of the main ideas that Carr discusses in the book.

As Carr demonstrates, the internet is changing our brains in such a way that one might say it's creating, generally speaking, a society with technology-induced ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). The internet limits one's ability to really contemplate and understand the information one reads and how it might apply to his or her life. Carr writes that "[t]he development of a well-rounded mind requires both [my emphasis] an ability to find and quickly parse a wide range of information and [my emphasis] a capacity for open-ended reflection.... We need to work in Google's 'world of numbers,' but we also need to be able to retreat to Sleepy Hollow. The problem today is that we're losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind" (p. 168).

Carr later quotes novelist David Foster Wallace: "Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience" (pp. 194-5).

In other words, we need to "unplug" every so often. We need solitude, nature, and some form of silence. We need time and space to think.

This evening I rollerbladed a little over 11 miles. A lot of people like to listen to music when they exercise; but, when I exercise, I like to just think about things--in the way that constantly "connected" people might not be able to.

Me, unplugged.

While I rollerbladed I thought about Carr's book, and that is when the idea for this blog post came to me. I also pondered my career/job options. I wrote poetry in my head while I rolled along. I thought about my friends and family. I listened to my wheels against the pavement and enjoyed the sound they made. I delighted in the little noises of nature and watched bunnies hop through the reeds along the path. I thought about how, at 90+ degrees (even in the evening), there was no way I could do the full 15.8 miles I've done the last few times I've been out.

And every thought took me back to Carr's book and our society's reliance on technology and the distractedness it creates. I am certainly not immune to this technology-induced ADD; and, as I thought about Carr's book, I realized that I don't want to lose my capacity to read deeply and think critically. Therefore, I think that in order to hold on to this ability, I need to make time to read, write, or do any other activity uninterrupted--time when I'm not texting or checking email, Facebook, or Twitter.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Think About Money

 "There's no such thing as a free lunch."

 I think that's the only thing that I remember from my high school Economics class. It seems to be a pretty ubiquitous phrase, and most people are familiar with it. I wonder, though, if many people really understand what it means.

Perhaps I'm in the minority in the way I view money. I don't see it as a goal in life. For example, I see (for the most part, at least) designer labels, fancy cars, and huge houses as crass and gaudy. And, to me, a diamond ring doesn't mean love; love comes from the heart.

Suffice it to say, I'm constantly surprised at how other people seem to see and treat money. I've worked in retail for a number of years, but it's at my current job in a college bookstore where I've seen the most blatant abuse of funds, especially funds that come from other sources (i.e. government). As someone who was taught from an early age how to save money and make wise purchases/investments, I find it disenchanting to see how careless many college students are with their money. While I chock up many of these financial choices to immaturity and materialistic selfishness, it's what they do with government money and other aids and scholarships that irks me the most. Some students even brag about how they will avoid paying it back.

One student who had a bookstore stipend that she didn't have to pay back just started tossing items on to the counter, barely looking at what she was buying. "It doesn't matter," she said. "It's free." I had to stop myself from replying, "There's no such thing as a free lunch."

Another student was buying something with money other people had given him to make the purchase. When given the choice between a less expensive and more expensive item, he grabbed the more expensive one, saying, "I don't care; it's not my money."

"I don't care; it's not my money."

That statement denotes precisely what is wrong with so much in this country. Government programs; federal, state, and local governments; educational programs; school districts; corporations....

In most cases, it's not so much that the money doesn't exist (for various institutions and programs); instead, it's that the people in charge of handling the money don't allocate it smartly. In actuality, a lot can be done with a little.

Think about it; how do you view money?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Think About Reading

I'll proudly wear the title of Literary Snob. I'm okay with that, I admit it. There are some authors that I won't read because their books don't contain what I think of as "good" writing. They may be engaging stories, but their writing is simplistic and basic. Their characters are flat. No depth.

So, yes, I'm a Literary Snob. I'd rather stay a more-or-less unpublished writer than be an author of a flatly written book. That's just me. I value good literature. Likewise, it's what I strive to write.

However, I also believe that if millions of people are reading a poorly written book, that is far better than not reading any book at all.

Think about everything you might read in a day, words you read without even thinking about it. When I became a tutor for a local literacy organization, I realized just how much I take my reading ability for granted. Twice a week I meet with a student who managed to graduate from high school without knowing how to read fluently. Every day she faces struggles that the average adult knows nothing about. Menus, prescription bottles, recipes, receipts, billboard signs, ingredients on a box of cereal, and on and on.

Although poor writing, grammar, and proofreading skills irk me, having poor reading and reading comprehension skills sadden me. It saddens me because it is often under-privileged children who are the victims of poor reading skills. Through no fault of their own, these children may start school already academically behind their peers, simply because nobody has ever read to them or taken them to a library or even showed them a book.

But what about the children who are not under-privileged? I don't want to make this an issue about the public education system in the United States; that's only part of the problem.

A larger part of the problem in this country has to do with our society's values (or lack thereof?). A large chunk of people in our society put emphasis on the wrong things: money, status, fashion, outer beauty..., to name a few. An enlightening article from the April 18th Publishers Weekly articulated this idea nicely for me. In "The Light at the End of the Publishing Tunnel? On finding fans, not formats," Rudy Shur writes that "[i]nstead of focusing on how our books are going to be delivered to the reading public, we ought to be concerned with who will be left to read books."

Think about that for a moment.

Additionally, he cites that video game sales surpass book sales. Twenty years ago, books were a common form of entertainment. Now, though, a lot of people look for ways to BE entertained, as opposed to finding a way to entertain themselves. To that point, Shur writes: "While other countries focus on educating their children, we seem more focused on amusing them.... However, the responsibility of raising children who value education, and hence read, in any form, is no longer a priority. Without a vibrant and growing reading public to buy e-books or tree-books, who are we going to sell our titles to in the future?"

I will counter Shur here and suggest that many people will still buy books (e-books or otherwise); for some, it's about status--a way to show off their e-gadget--or a way of appearing intellectual. Whether they will read them or not...?

Perhaps the people who have earbuds fused to their brains, ipods sutured to their pockets, and cell phones superglued to their hands actually take e-breaks when they are alone. Turn off the tunes, switch off the television, and power down the laptop. And, then, maybe they simply sit on the couch with a book (or an e-reader).

Ahhh.... Simple pleasures. When I learned to read, my mom told me that a book could transport me anywhere, that I could do anything or be anyone by reading. Not only that, but I soon discovered all sorts of stuff I could learn by reading!

Think about reading. Actually, don't just think about it. Read to yourself or read to someone else. Read to a child!

But, mostly...READ.