Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Provocative Quotes

Steven Johnson, in his book, Everything Bad is Good for You, wrote,

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. . . .

Books are also 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 quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. . . .

But perhaps the most dangerous property of these 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. . . . 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, participatory process; it's a submissive one.

(As quoted in "Brain Candy," by Malcom Gladwell, The New Yorker, May 16, 2005, pgs. 88-89.)

Dr. Arthur Aufderheide of the University of Minnesota Duluth and author of The Scientific Study of Mummies, has said, "All knowledge is connected to all other knowledge. The fun is in making the connections."

(As quoted in "The Mummy Doctor," by Kevin Krajick, The New Yorker, May 16, 2005, pgs. 66-75.)


Laura said...

Hello all!

I know I've been delayed in saying this, but I just wanted to thank all of you for keeping this blog up. It's given me invaluable insight into the career of a librarian, and I am very excited to keep following in all of your footsteps. Good luck with your new job, Alec, and thank you so much for your play-by-play on how you managed to find it; congrats on graduation. I look forward to hearing how things continue to work out for you.

Barbara said...

Glad you're enjoying this, Laura - I certainly am.

Boy, does this quote from Everything Bad seem bogus. Reading is not isolating, it's a social experience, and it is as interactive as any video game. (Guess what - pages turn in both directions!) I can understand Johnson wanting to make a claim that the things we disparage aren't really so bad but why pick on books to do it?

Of course, reading novels was once considered degenerate, slothful, and as culturally significant as watching South Park. In the early 19th century public libraries talked about the "fiction problem" - too many people wanted to read novels rather than more improving non-fiction. Lately there are lots of interesting things being written by people like Janice Radway, Elizabeth Long, and Catherine Sheldrik Ross that are challenging our assumption that reading is solitary and passive. I especially like Radway's essay “Beyond Mary Bailey and Old Maid Librarians: Reimagining Readers and Rethinking Reading” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, vol. 35, no. 4, Fall, 1994, pp: 275-296. Mary Bailey is the wife in It's a Wonderful Life who is seen in the alternative reality as being an unfulfilled, frightened old main librarian! Fate worse than death!!

I like what Aufterheide said, though about connections. This sounds very like what our Patti Lindell Scholarship winner, Betsy Appleton, found when examining curiosity as an attribute of learning. You can find her study at http://www.gustavus.edu/oncampus/academics/library/Pubs/Lindell2005.html


Alec said...

An interesting critique of Steven's book can be found here.