Reading - Writing - and Cynicism

posted May 29, 2015, 12:12 PM by Bruce Gaughran   [ updated Feb 21, 2019, 1:52 PM ]
I read an interesting article by Joyce Friedman the other day on Cynicism. I have posted a small section of the article below, but encourage you to read the entire article by following the title link below. I remember my father, who was born in 1900, watching the evening news in the 60s and 70s. He would sit there and shake his head. eventually, he would look at my mother and say, "I can't believe this is happening. What is this world coming to?"

The world didn't come to an end back then and I doubt it will end tomorrow because of cell phones and apps. But, you never know. :-)

The Age-Old Cynicism Surrounding the Dream of Book Writing

Why do we feel the need to place value judgments on how young people read or write? Dare I ask why we believe someone must become a serious reader before it’s okay for them to begin creating/writing? How much reading should be required before you get the green light to write? Doesn’t writing make you a better reader? (I must say at this point that I have never formally studied these issues; if there are educators who can comment intelligently on this, please do.)

What I observe in the reaction:

  1. There’s an overabundance of books and it’s just as upsetting now as it was in the 1400s. With digital publishing tools, even if you can’t get a publisher, the manuscript doesn’t have to collect dust under the bed. You can publish it. And as Clay Shirky has said, the question today isn’t “Why publish this?” It’s “Why not?”
  2. We think young people are not as smart, hard working, or [fill in the blank]. Every generation thinks the one after it is somehow deficient. Today’s young people are especially under this burden, as they’re constantly referred to or identified by the fact they grew up with the Internet, or digital devices, which tend to take the blame for the many evils in the world. We’re all fretting about whether or not we’re slowing down enough to read a book—even though we’re likely reading more than ever, just in different formats and mediums.

We are potentially entering a new era—what has been called the Era of Universal Authorship  (see graph below). And one of the tweeted responses did in fact acknowledge this subtext: “That [statistic] is a bit depressing. Not just the competition. That takes away from the notion of writer as identity.”

Exactly. If everyone is a writer, then what makes any particular writer special?

That’s a pretty damn scary thought for the “serious” writers out there—who can also be the ones who cringe at the masses who wish to write or ridicule them for their attempts. If everyone is a writer, and no one is a reader, then who will read us? Who will care about our special snowflake work? Who will put us on a pedestal if everyone else is writing? And won’t the good work get crowded out?