Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Literature, Poetry, and Books

The Nonfiction Cell Phone

Is the time students used to spend reading fiction, weighty tomes of novels, now spent on the cell phone?   From James V. Schall's "On Reading Fiction:" 

The poet and the fiction writer are not merely substitutes for our not talking to our friends wherever they are, whenever we want. So when people spend time on immediacy in place of fiction, are they closer to understanding the reality they live in? We can doubt it.

Schall asks whether the cell phone and cyberspace "reality" have diminished our imaginations, which used to be expanded by the reading of fiction.  We see the lack of fiction reading in our students and how it shrivels their souls.

Discussions - 4 Comments

I had three students over last night, for Cubans. I gave them each a novel, because of this problem (Alan Furst and Raymond Chandler).

That is why we watch the news, last time I checked Fox, CBS and NBC were all copyrighted. As we all know "no author may copyright his ideas or the facts he narrates." Harper & Row, Publishers Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539, 556 (1985). Yet these shows are copyrighted because the collage, compilation and mashup of facts are fixed and original. If it is copyright capable it is fiction.

Cyberspace and cell phones ("smart" phones, really) are not the disease, but rather a possible symptom of it. The disease is a public education system that has steadily emphasized "basic skills" over actual knowledge. The Common Core standards that 37 states and DC rushed to embrace this year are the very embodiment of mediocrity -- but for many states no worse than what they have now.

I don't have a Kindle, but I do have an iPhone and I have reviewed several e-reader applications. I re-read Paradise Lost and Huckleberry Finn last year on the iPhone. It was a different experience. I found reading fiction easier than reading nonfiction on the phone. (I downloaded a few Kindle titles for the iPhone app -- with one exception, I ended up buying the hardcovers, too. Old habits.)

Recently, I had a chance to try out some e-reader apps on a friend's iPad. The availability of public domain literature is simply extraordinary. So is the quality of the text layout. It's possible to foresee a revival of reading on devices such as the iPad, as developers learn to incorporate interactive features (for example, embedded links to other works referred or alluded to in the text).

But such a revival would seem unlikely as long as generations of young people are taught to read superficially, and exposed to fifth-rate, Bowdlerized literature.

I do enjoy listening to recorded books, especially fiction, when the readers can do both male and female voices, old and young, accents, etc..

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