Is Everybody Listening?

Is Everybody Listening?

“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?

6 Responses to Is Everybody Listening?

  1. It’s always a communications shock when new technology is developed. When silent films turned to talkies, the camera stopped being fluid for almost a decade and audiences lost a little of the ability to add their own dialogue ear. Television killed film for a long period and eventually changed it. There was also the cry that television would curtail books, yet the book publishing industry thrived in the 50’s and 60’ and 70’s.

    I grew up on radio. I felt the radio personalities were in my space even more then early television. Perhaps it’s the way I’m constructed; I like to be read stories. So in some ways I hope you’re right and we are moving in a sense backward to where getting information and entertainment came from sound waves. We are clearly in a transitional period and no one can full predict where it is all headed.

    When I walk into the Strand bookstore I am confronted with hundreds of people searching, pushing, shoving there way around books and 5-7 cashiers continually ringing up sales. A good part of my conversations with friends still revolve around an op ed piece or a book. So, I’m not yet ready to agree that reading is one the way out. There is something fundamental to the brain and thinking that reading will serve, at least for the next generations until some alterations to our brain are made. I don’t see it as either or. Rather I think what’s most important these days is relevancy and the grammar for any medium. What attracts readers. listeners and viewers is the relevancy of the topic to their interest and making that relevancy manifest and the grammar of the medium whether written word or film or sound. When these two elements are supplied I believe that many readers, viewers, and listeners will gladly cross mediums to go to the creation.

    • Yes, we haven’t moved all the way to a new medium and discarded the old one yet. I hope we never do. But I’m sure those authors who don’t embrace audio as a way to deliver their books, too, will find themselves left out eventually. It’s not a requirement, just an option to be noted and dealt with. Your experience with the history of storytelling is invaluable and of course suggests all sorts of twists and turns before we know where this will end up. Thanks so much for commenting.

  2. Such a clever title! There are so many ways now to get information–and it does seem that audio is the direction. I’ll always be a written word gal. But there are times in my day–driving, folding laundry, cooking, exercising–when I am so happy to have an audio option! Looking forward to hearing your stories!

  3. Sidney, what you say is true and frightening … we need to keep up communication with one another big time! Nancy

    • You bet! I think what frightens us is that we allow it to happen, so in many ways we’re responsible. Let’s not get lazy about communication. That would truly bring society down! Thanks for commenting.

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