In recent decades, teenagers and students have begun to gravitate towards screens instead of novels. (Graphic by Kassem Ossman)
In recent decades, teenagers and students have begun to gravitate towards screens instead of novels.

Graphic by Kassem Ossman

A modern brawl: multimedia v. written words

November 22, 2021

Remember back to your kindergarten days; a hush falls over the classroom as all the little kids take their place on the carpet. They peer up at someone who is magical, who is fearless, their guardian angel in academics– a teacher. The teacher opens the book and the children’s minds wander into a faraway land. “Once upon a time…”

Fifty years ago, the main form of entertainment was to pick up a book, maybe one you’ve already read, and just sit down and dive into a fictional world. Not many people complained of boredom and it allowed a sense of imagination and creativity in your everyday life. Fast forward a couple of decades and everywhere you look, people have put down the books and picked up a computer the size of a hand.

Virtual media has taken over our society; it’s our source of entertainment, news and gossip, just at an arm’s reach. We close ourselves off from the world and delve into a digital land full of ones and zeros, instead of an “old-school” book. The fast-changing world we now live in allows us to move from topic to topic without blinking an eye, but could this culprit be our downfall?

The shift from the novel to the illuminating screen of multimedia platforms has had a damaging impact on our attention spans in just a couple of decades.

When it comes to [reading], imagination plays a big part, even though the author describes how a scene looks, every person sees it differently,”

— Naila Marciukaityte

According to the NICM Health Research Institute, the average attention span has decreased from 12 to eight seconds, since 2000. What happened in the early 2000s? The beginning of the world of modern technology was created.

English teacher Kari Alore sees it first-hand in the high school students she teaches. She expresses her proof that the average person’s attention span has diminished with the new technology.

“I think it’s the attention span; reading requires something of you that just watching a television show doesn’t always require. Our ability to focus is getting shorter and shorter… we’re evolving in a way that, because of technology, our brains simply aren’t sustaining rigor for long periods of time anymore,” Alore said.

For decades, students at almost every high school have read the classics, such as Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Lord of the Flies by William Golding; now, people hear these titles and groan at the memories of writing essay after essay, annotating every word insight. It’s not a surprise that these assignments have caused a decrease in reading for entertainment.

I hope some of my passion is infectious and then sometimes even though the students didn’t enjoy the book, I hope they enjoyed the thinking that came along with it,”

— Kari Alore

Many people alike, DGS English teacher Kierstin Thompson naturally grew up with the ambition and passion to read. As a teacher, Thompson and her colleagues are continually trying to find ways to relate a similar ambition to their students.

“Most of us in the department are just trying to find those novels that will speak to kids, in terms of their own experiences or experiences that they will have or want to have. So, when I use a book that is very distant from those experiences, I have to teach it in a very different way,” Thompson said.

Junior and avid reader Naila Marciukaityte reflects on her own passion for reading and what she gains from the activity of reading. She notes the imaginative aspect that can emerge from a simple novel.

“When it comes to [reading], imagination plays a big part, even though the author describes how a scene looks, every person sees it differently. [In] a movie or tv show everything is given to you, but in a book, you have to imagine how everything looks… You get to live inside the mind of the characters,” Marciukaityte said.

Even though teachers are required to teach in-depth literary analysis and critical thinking skills, there is an underlying encouragement for their students to find enjoyment in reading and not think about it as a chore. As a stride towards the engagement the classes used to have, the department begins to shift their conversations to more teen-friendly topics.

“We bring up questions that everyone deals with and then the students are interested in those questions and so, they get to witness how somebody else goes through it before they have to go through it,” Thompson said.

The battle of learning in English classrooms isn’t just one-sided. It takes both teacher and student engagement in order to revive this interest in reading, not just for fun, but also academically. Alore is one of the many teachers trying to create the needed excitement in the English classrooms.

“I hope some of my passion is infectious and then sometimes even though the students didn’t enjoy the book, I hope they enjoyed the thinking that came along with it,” Alore said.

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