Written words are a doorway. I learned at age 4 that when I could correctly interpret letters on a page I could see pictures in my mind. I could be anyone and live adventure. Books made me feel and think and dream. I remember my cheek pressed against the cold bathroom floor, envisioning Snow White while forgetting I had the flu. I smuggled a flashlight into bed at night so I could see where dragons would next appear.
No television or movie experience completely engulfs me like a good read. Mixed media does the intellectual work for you: you see and hear what is presented. Written stories present sensory information as well but imagination is required to furnish the details, to add dimension and form a personal reality. A reader’s own focus, understanding and experience complete the interpretation. Reading becomes not just a passive experience but an internal act of creation.
My kids and everyone else’s are absorbed by video games, cell phones, I Pods and a host of other technological devices. We are revolutionizing our information systems. Admittedly, progress is a great thing. Here I sit, blogging on a laptop that no one had thought of yet when I was young. I slogged to the library for all my college research papers (uphill both ways of course) and consulted heavy tomes to substantiate knowledge. Now Siri looks stuff up for me.
The information at our fingertips is mind-blowing. And it is all so easy. Is easy always better?
Practically speaking, books gave me vocabulary skills, spelling and an innate sense of syntax. Texting might be able to provide the same if we can get by the abbreviations and shortcuts we so heavily depend on. As far as books go, Nooks and e-readers do give bibliophiles options. I miss the smell and crinkle of crisp pages but ecologically speaking computerized text is better for the planet, and so could be considered improvement. I haven’t seen inspiring, colorful illustrations within electronic formats but they may exist. I hope so. As a child the pictures were the icing on the cake, a beautiful and vital piece of the book experience.
As an adult I still read every evening before bed and wouldn’t trade that time for anything. Real life has budget restrictions and responsibilities. In my freedom hour I am wealthy or beautiful, mysterious and magical. I learn. I travel and accomplish wondrous things. I imagine, dream, laugh, cry and relate to all peoples in myriad ways. Books connect me to other realities, provoke me to think, spur me to expand my consciousness. They give me wonder and a deep appreciation for human connection. They make me value expression.
I do want my children and grandchildren to enjoy their electronic devices. But I also want them to leave technology behind once in a while. Practice a time-honored interpretive art. Walk through the doorway. Reading is a gift, one that I hope to share. Pick up a book. Imagine and feel and dream. See where the dragons may land.