Each year, I encourage students to spend time reading over the summer. Reading opens up worlds beyond our own and encourages a breadth of thinking, often from multiple perspectives. It encourages empathy, walking in someone else’s shoes, and it ensures solid comprehension.
A book I recently read called The Shallows – What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr deals with the ongoing debate about the intellectual and cultural consequences of the Internet. One of his points is that when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. I am a digital immigrant, but I believe in technology as a great tool; however, I also believe that social media can reduce language, and thereby reduce thought, to their most simplistic forms, taking out nuance, subtlety and higher thinking.
Certain social media are designed to be quick and brief, but “for human beings language is the primary vessel of conscious thought, particularly higher forms of thought, and the new technologies that restructure language tend to exert the strongest influence over our intellectual lives.” So I pose the question: If “writing heightens consciousness,” what does something like Twitter do and what effect does it have on our language and thinking and intellectual process?
I suspect you can guess where I am going with this. I’m promoting reading books and the enormous value of reading for sustained concentration, deep thinking, and opening the mind to broad new frontiers of thought and expression. In her book Alone Together, MIT researcher Sherry Turkle says “adolescents need to learn empathic skills, to think about values and identity, to manage and express feelings, but technology has changed the rules. Sometimes you don’t have time for your friends except if they’re online.” Connectivity is important but so is real conversation.
Far from being a Luddite, I also think we need to disconnect periodically. Reading is the best way I know to be transported to worlds that we may never visit and encounter characters that we may never meet in “real life.”
Live in your imagination and be drawn in, against your will if necessary, to another universe, and leave technology alone for a little while.