“I never learn anything from listening to myself.” ― Barbara Kingsolver
Most people would call me an apolitical beast, and be right. That’s why you’ve never seen a post on this blog covering politics from any side. So, how did I get myself involved in the current healthcare debate? Through the back door; that’s how.
An Op-Ed piece by David Leonhardt in the New York Times on June 19, 2017, pushed the door wide that had already been cracked open many times before. The piece presents the facts around the secretive healthcare deliberations. It accepts the full responsibility to inform the public of all sides of the argument, presenting urgently the importance of the resulting proposals for change. Whether it was the shock of the election and criticism of the role the media played in its outcome, or an awakening of journalists to the reality of their responsibility to the public, I’d say they’ve changed their focus and commitment and now present a new quality of journalism. Put more simply, they seem to be doing their jobs at last—yet lately, when I talk with others about issues vital to us all, I wonder if anyone is paying attention.
Now that journalists have something important to say and they’re saying it well, is anybody listening? There are fewer comments at the end of each piece online. Does that mean there are fewer strongly-held opinions, or fewer readers? I, too, notice fewer comments and waning numbers on my blog. I know the op-ed pieces are better than ever, and I sense a continued interest in the content of my blog from readers who contact me directly, so what’s going on? My real fear is that people aren’t reading anymore.
It suddenly dawned on me that conveying important information through print may no longer be a practical choice. Our busy schedules, waning patience, inability to focus, and even visual exhaustion from the multi-screened life we lead may well have already put reading way down in most people’s priorities. An aging population has become thoroughly addicted to books via the audio option, just as the younger generation collects fast soundbites of information and short stories in podcasts.
I can only see this moving further in that direction in the not-so-distant future, with everyone driving in their electric cars with automatic pilots fully engaged and audio filling the car with news, debate and fiction while the “driver” rests his eyes for most of the trip. Is this a bad thing? Of course not. It’s just the next thing, and we must be ready for it. When I say ‘we’, I mean we writers. Whether we’re journalists or creative story tellers, we need to know that the paper we love to hold in our hands will be a relic of the past. There will always be people attached to vestiges of a by-gone era; those who collect and prize nostalgic reminders of the way we entertained and enlightened ourselves at another time. But that said, we see what’s happened to the value of antiques lately, and so like it or not, we writers must also move our tastes with those of the readers. If we don’t, they won’t hear what we say.
That’s the real reason I ask myself if anybody pays attention to words on a page anymore. When I read such impressive, well-documented and presented journalism in the New York Times, but find that no one I’m speaking with has read the same article, I realize we’re in the middle of a monumental change in the way information is absorbed. If we want to be heard, we must paint ourselves into the scene technology has moved society into; and the story-tellers must follow. This Unblocked! Writer intends to offer posts in podcast form as well as text in the very near future, and she hopes her next book will be offered in audio alongside the shiny hardcover edition right from the start.
What good is it to write a searing Op-Ed essay or a wonderful book if nobody reads anymore? Since all my young friends listen to podcasts and my older friends to audio books, then instead of asking if anybody reads anymore, I think the time has come to ask: is everybody listening?