Monday, September 3, 2012

Thinking Ahead—the Next Generation of Writers and Readers

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

4199587038_3a392a88eb_zI was driving one of the interminable carpools that I drive on a daily basis during the school year. This was a middle school one and there’s a new member in it. The girl was sitting in the front seat with me (my daughter still being too light to sit in the front seat with the airbag), and I tried to make conversation with her on the way to the school. The only problems with this are that I’m horrible at small-talk and I’m even worse making small-talk with pre-teens.

We made desultory conversation for a few minutes, mine of the stilted grownup variety. Then I asked hesitantly, “What do you like to do in your spare time after school?” Then I quickly added, in case she didn’t like to really do anything, “Or do you just like to chill out?”

“I like writing,” she said.

And I lit up. It’s funny how you have an instant connection with other writers, no matter the age, no matter the genre.

I keep hearing stories and reading articles about how the next generation has so much competing for their attention—that books are going to lose out. There have also been a few angst-ridden posts on how teens write poorly…that the texting culture has taken over.

In my admittedly unscientific observations, however, I see a lot of reading going on. But a lot of what I’m seeing just isn’t in a traditional format (print books and magazines). It’s happening on smartphones and iPads and Kindle Fires.

As far as I can tell, teens today write a heck of a lot more than the teens I knew back in the 80s. (I’m talking about general, non-creative writing). In the 80s, all the kids I knew spent hours on the phone. Now kids are all texting each other. Yes, it’s in shorthand. But they’re expressing their thoughts and feelings in words. When was the last time that happened in a conversational way since the development of the telephone? So they have an intimate connection with words (these days more through texting than email, as far as I can tell.)

I also continue running into kids who write. They usually come right out and tell me they’re writers, knowing that I’m a writer, myself. When I talk at the schools, there’s always at least one kid who comes up afterward to talk to me more about writing.

The books as we know them will probably change. The genres might change too, following the trends of the day. The important thing is the product—the story itself, and not the packaging. And the most important thing will still be readers. And these readers are still reading--despite the many sophisticated alternatives available to them.

That’s it for my observations, but I’m interested in hearing yours. What’s your outlook on the future of reading and writing for the next generation?

And Happy Labor Day to my friends in the States. :)

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