“Books are tragically isolating.”

Found another example of “reverse rhetoric” to add to my collection.  This is Steve Johnson, from Everything Bad for You is Good: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter (2005), as quoted in Lindquist and Seitz, The Elements of Literacy (2009), 212-213.  Johnson imagines what commentators would be saying, had video games been in use before books.

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 sound-scapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements — books are simply a barren string of words on the page. […]

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. […]

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. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to “follow the plot” instead of learning to lead.

I had googled the phrase “Books are tragically isolating” to see if I could find the text somewhere so that I didn’t have to type it all myself. And I ended up seeing several examples of people arguing that books, in fact, are not “tragically isolating.” I thought that was interesting, in that Johnson doesn’t use this reverse rhetoric, this thought experiment literally, in order to actually make this argument, but to show the assumptions we often fall into when we react to what is new and/or different.


2 thoughts on ““Books are tragically isolating.”

  1. Hi, Michael. Yeah. I’m not surprised, from what I’ve read about Johnson’s book.
    We’re reading the Lindquist and Seitz (well, a couple of chapters) for Lisa’s Language, Technology, and Culture class.

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