I’ve just returned from a wonderful conference in Eskişehir – when I got back to Ankara last night, I found this “letter to the editor” in my mailbox….
Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying – which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements – books are simply a barren string of words on the page.
Only a small portion of the brain devoted to processing written language is activated during reading, while games engage the full range of the sensory and motor cortices.
Books are tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children.
These new “libraries” that have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities are a frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally so vivacious and socially interactive, sitting alone in cubicles, reading silently, oblivious to their peers.
Many children enjoy reading books, of course, and no doubt some of the flights of fancy conveyed by reading have their “escapist merits”. But for a sizable percentage of the population, books are downright discriminatory. The reading craze of recent years cruelly taunts the 10 million Americans who suffer from dyslexia – a condition that didn’t even exist as a condition until printed text came along to stigmatize its suffers.
But perhaps the most dangerous property of books is the fact that they follow a “fixed linear path”. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion – you simply sit back and have the “story” dictated to you. For those of us raised on interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing. Why would anyone want to embark on an adventure utterly choregraphed by another person? But today’s generation embarks on such adventures millions of times a day.
This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances.
Reading is not an active, participative process; it’s a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to “follow the plot” instead of “learning to lead”.
Perhaps, Ray Bradbury was right all along…..
S. Johnson (New York City)