I stare at electronic screens a lot. I watch television and play video games, and half the time I listen to music I’m mesmerized by iTunes’ Visualizer (that cosmic color thing that pulses along with a song’s volume). Even when I write or read, there’s a very good chance I’m doing it on a computer.
That said, GULP.
This is just a preliminary study, and one examining only children, but the possibility of its results being true (and applicable to adults) is an ominous one. I hold out hope, though, that the nature of the content viewed counts for something. Or even everything! Maybe if I read digital Bleak House rather than, say, [enter website you disapprove of], I will nourish my brain rather than liquefy it. Perhaps I can offset my fluff screening with something more substantial. So if I consume (write?) crummy blogs, I also read short stories on my favorite literary magazines’ websites. If I compose emails bemoaning crummy blogs I’ve read (written?), I also type a few pages of serious fiction. Balance will set me free!
Or so I’d like to believe. If you asked me whether I’d like to lie in bed reading fine literature for five hours, I’d say yes, but if you then murmured under your breath, “…on a computer screen,” I’d probably resort to my practiced cough-sputter-well-er-um backing-out routine. The sad truth is I have a decidedly negative attitude toward electronic screens in general, regardless of how much I rely on them. I sort of distrust them. They sort of scare me.
So what if it’s not the content but the screens themselves that are to blame for these quote unquote psychological difficulties? Well, then I could be in trouble. Dare I say, WE ALL COULD! Or at least, A LOT OF US COULD!
As our culture continues its e-migration, it will almost certainly bring reading and writing along with it (the Kindle grown into a respectable forest fire). And if staring at screens leads to psychological difficulties, then we readers and writers may face some serious blues. What a shame! In the past, reading and writing were what you did instead of staring at screens. They were the healthy alternatives, the green leafy vegetables of recreation. Three to five servings a day were recommended! But now what? Must we use them sparingly?
I hope not. I hope that if these researchers’ findings are correct, if staring at screens can cause psychological difficulties regardless of their content, then it’s merely a symptom of our current relationship with the screens themselves. Perhaps decades of screens providing easy, sedentary entertainment have made it difficult for us to accept them as potentially fulfilling. Despite the availability of enriching, satisfying content on the Internet, our mental knees jerk in protest when faced with the pixilated. And if that’s the case, might we only be fooling ourselves?
The title of this rant is, of course, a quote from my computer. Whenever I command it to shut down, it asks this very question. Are you sure?
Maybe I shouldn’t be. Let me not log off just yet. Let me at least experiment with optimism for a while. Let me forge ahead, writing on my computer and reading my e-zines. Let me try to embrace these threatening new media openly. It may not feel comfortable at first, but I might grow into it, get used to it, leave behind misconceptions I never knew I had.
Collin Grabarek, Fiction Editor