Not long ago, a friend and I were discussing how some of the the things we used to enjoy - the tools we used to unwind and relax - didn't seem to be working as well anymore. In particular, reading; both voracious readers, we no longer seemed able to lose ourselves in a book anymore.
Not that we don't read - in the last several months we've both read several books for sheer enjoyment, a few others for intellectual stimulation, and a daily ingestion of news and views from all places and all kinds. In addition to news, we both read a little bit of some book daily, too. But that sense of immersion, we agreed, seems almost impossible to grasp. We pick up a book. We read a few pages. And we put it down. Or we pick up a book and soldier on, but the pages don't provide the insulation against the outside world that they once did. We hear kids playing, traffic outside, the birds in the yard - and the background of our own thoughts, seperate and distinct from the story we're enjoying.
Perhaps it was one of those unspoken signs of approaching middle age, we mused. After all, we've spent our 20s and 30s learning how to multi-task, keep several trains of thought moving and balls in the air all at once. Is it any wonder that our minds, so well trained to do so, can't as easily be coaxed into a mental "retreat"?
And then yesterday, I read the cover story in this month's The Atlantic. "Is Google Making Us Stoopid?" the headline screams. To which I mentally responded, "I can believe that." and picked up the magazine two weeks ago. The fact that it's taken me two weeks, in spite of 5 hours of plane travel, four days of vacation and two weekends to actually read the damn thing proves the point the article makes. Go read it. If it doesn't describe you, or bits of you, I will be surprised.
And then this morning, I read a news story (online of course) about Mark Bauerlein's new book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30. An mildly offensive title, to be sure, but one that rings true, and echoes another conversation I had recently about what I believe will - if it already hasn't - make my children's generation very different from the ones that came before. And with all the self-awareness I can muster, I must admit - I'll likely buy the book, quite soon, and then take unforgiveably long to read it.
Irony upon irony, 'til it's piled higher than my head - the decision to blog my thoughts came only after I looked for, and failed to find, a link that would allow me to Facebook the article.
These concerns are real, and it is once again, perhaps, Generation X caught squarely in the middle. We're not the "old fogies" - not quite - who don't understand all this "Internet Stuff." We're young enough to not be frightened and baffled by the concept and mechanics of uploading our photos to Facebook, but old enough to know that it's probably a good idea to read the Terms of Service before doing so. To use Bauerlein's analogy, we're young enough to appreciate the fun to be had in this virtual school cafeteria, but old enough to realize that the library can be just as stimulating.
So, what of the ones coming up behind us (Generation X), those teens and twenty-somethings who, when we're really old, are supposed to be our doctors and electricians and engineers? These are the kids who will, for good or for ill, be taking care of us some day. They're bright, no question. But it would be nice to know that they are just as capable of changing a tire as they are of changing a sound card.
And that's the problem I have with the Atlantic article and what I know of the book - there are few solutions offered. But, idealist that I am, I'd like to think that there is something we could do. Short of wishing there could be a blackout every few months, I'm not sure what that could be.