Hope and I got to chat with a nice group of young adults from affluent families. They found out I write things . . . even books . . . and all of them said: “That is so boring!” They could not believe that people were still bothering to write books.
Assuming these nice kids were having the old couple on (“let’s mess with the professor” is an old sport), I did not believe they were telling the truth. I asked what they did read.
One young lady said: “I have never read a book . . . well, I read Hunger Games. It was not as boring, but hard.” She was detailed enough talking about her experience, and her friends agreed strongly enough, that I believed her. These were nice kids, but their vocabulary (for their age) was very limited. They were texting constantly, so they used words, just not many words . . . or varied words. Even movies were long . . .one cannot imagine them embracing a science research project that would span decades and require an extensive professional vocabulary.
On this trip, we saw hundreds of young adults on Spring Break with their families, but I did not see one reading anything other than a phone. It is possible that kids were reading Dickens on the Kindle Ap, but I doubt it.
You might not need our observations to discover that kids don’t read voluntarily. I had a nice chat with a mom whose kid was in a very good school . . . the sort that makes them read many, many, many books for class. Mom, however, read almost nothing and when she did, the books needed to “get to the point.” The book she was reading had very few words on a page and was written at (roughly) a seventh grade level.
So what? People are on a holiday. Why expect them to read?
Yet people used to read big, thick tomes, not very serious ones perhaps but many words, on vacations. These were beach books and Clancy, King, and Michener were successful. Were they good? Who am I to judge? People were reading. The plots were complex and the vocabulary was more expansive than the book the woman was reading.
The school was doing right, but plainly whatever they were trying to do was failing. People don’t read for fun. I used to clean up “junk novels” after school . . . now kids are texting or playing games. Don’t tell me that wrestling through Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is the same as playing Candy Crush . . . or whatever iPhone game is popular at the moment.
First, vocabulary is not being built. Words allow us to express complex emotions and the kids I met had nothing for anything more complex than “boring” or “cool.” They were consumers . . . and not creators.
Second, “boring” is fatal. Sadly, much we should know and need to know is “boring.” Science takes math. Math can be boring. Plato requires you learn Greek. That is boring at times. Politics takes reading Locke, Lincoln, and Langston Hughes. Boring.
When people ask what our problems are, atheist or Christian, right or left, I am tempted to say: post-literacy. Only a tiny elite, say ten percent read. That was not true of my grandparents. It is true of much of my generation now. We can do so many other things that reading is lost, but complex ideas cannot be told in movie form. You cannot do analytic philosophy in an entertaining way and science discoveries take hard thought and research.
Marriage problems after fifty years of marriage require a more complex vocabulary than “boring” or “hot” or “not.”
God, help us.
Nobody is going to read this far. Why? We are now over five hundred words. Could I have said this in less? Yes, I am not very good, but Plato could not write Republic with a single word less than he wrote. God help a generation that could easily access Plato, but no longer cares to read him. God help us if Nietzsche is no longer dangerous to much of our ruling class, because he writes long sentences . . . even in translation.
I will say it bluntly. The problem for Bible Christians is that Romans is too complex for most Americans: boring. The problem for most atheists is that science is boring. Since I like both science and Romans, this is disturbing.
Read. Read. Read. Take and read. Be saved.