"The ancient art of talking is falling into decay," the writer complained.
It was being destroyed. The problem was serious. "People nowadays have something else to do than talk; not only do they live in such hurry that there is only leisure for comparing ideas as to the weather, but they have each and all a gross quantity to do, which puts talking out of the question."
Email? Video games? No, the distressing habit that the author objected to was reading. The complaint was originated by a writer in an article from a publication called "Chambers Journal" that was reprinted in an issue of "Scientific American" magazine in 1865. The writer complained that people read on trains, at home, at the seaside, and in the mountains.
Such complaints seem to arise with regularity as some invention, trend, or development erupts and takes what seems to some to be an inordinate amount of attention away from something else, supposed to be of greater value.
There was trouble in River City from pool, and danger in video games, Dungeons and Dragons, Web surfing, and of course, email and instant messaging.
All of these are supposed to make some other skill wither because of the obsession induced by the threatening behavior.
The distress over email and IMing centers on their supposed ability to destroy writing skills. The theory holds that teens who spend their time in email and IM become accustomed to using the short hand of the electronic media--LOL, CUL8R--and don't develop the ability to converse in full sentences.
It's always hard to get excited about these predictions of woe. There are always behaviors for those who have a tendency to become obsessed and hide from the world to do so.
Somehow, it just isn't convincing. As our friends in 1865 concluded: "Reading is the great illusion of the present time. It has become a sort of lay piety, according to which the perusal of volumes reckons as good works. It is, in a word, the superstition of the nineteenth century."
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