I created my first e-mail account at 15. Using the keyboard was a moment of anxiety because I knew my friends had more expertise, but through college, I learned to edit footnotes and use shortcuts to make the title of my essay bold. Despite the fact that lots of high school students are now writing essays and do a lot more than formatting a simple paragraph, in the near future we might be discussing whether or not to use virtual reality to entertain babies. Reading and writing are essential skills for actively participating in society, but as more skills get more complex and restricted to some extent, good materials to read or good written pieces become both a matter of taste and an indicator of social inequalities: instead of how many books you have at home, they might be asking how many likes you got on your public post. In theory, if better education wasn’t affordable or accessible to you, the interest in a number of topics of research might be lower, and the same might be true for social media activity, if you’re not given opportunity to meet more people and expand your views. With that in mind, I wanna share two statements that explain what I’m talking about:
“Turn off the TV and go read a book!”
Before YouTube, but not before downloads, most of us listened to music either borrowing stuff from our friends or getting what was on the radio. Not all of us bought CDs, but definitely lots of people. Still, we needed people to talk about what we liked to listen to, and though we had a lot of specialized magazines with extensive coverage on the industry and entertainment in general, there were also broadcasted programs. If you’re Brazilian, you might remember the phrase on local MTV. Maybe they noticed that many bought records, listened to the radio and went to concerts, but few understood what the artists were saying. Maybe it wasn’t exactly what the idea was about. But they did point to a need of searching for culture, knowledge and information that was useful and edifying. In college, I read many authors in Literature and Linguistics, but I didn’t make any Italian friends who quoted Agamben on Instagram or joined a Facebook group to discuss Derrida with my third language fully active in my brain. I just knew an outline of a topic studied more extensively by these authors (Saussure, Bakhtin, Barthes, Fairclough, Kress and many others) and tried to make connections and draw ideas from them. Literature is more complicated. I knew I was studying something that basically brought me joy. Linguistics was my work, and until I realized it could be the other way around, I was skeptical about a lot of my choices going forward. Don’t get me wrong: I love both. But we do need to allow exploration and experimentation in our lives, and books are able to show people what kinds of things we could find out about the world and ourselves, instead of just focusing on the practical and immediate.
“If nobody’s listening, write!”
Curiously, I saw this written on the back of a bus seat in São Paulo, and my reaction was to take a picture and post it on Instagram. I was always the guy who had few words to share and didn’t actively participate in conversation within social gatherings. Of course, one of the points is “social gatherings” didn’t feel like a thing we hear about every single day until recently (compare with a snap saying “who wanna hang?”), but really, not talking a lot makes you focus on something else, or maybe it’s the other way around. You’re naturally inclined to observe more than you interact. Regardless of the explanation or where it comes from (psychology, media experts or your mother), some of us share more of our intimate thoughts through writing (I think I can say tweets count) instead of conversations in person. We’re the generation who grew up on the internet, but the one that came next is literally saying “well, duh”. So how can we make things interesting and also fair? What we write makes an impact, but only if people read us. On a different level, we’re starting to see that conversation is changing exactly because we have written representations of them, while we didn’t before. It’s more important than ever to analyze context instead of isolated language, just in case we still care about who’s talking to whom, about what, but also why — and to try to understand that everyone has something to share, but some people won’t, for many reasons.
The world isn’t turning exclusively to videos, as some media studies indicate: people still buy books, and many more need to be written. However, we’ve become our own editors, in a sense: the choice of sharing a thought without reviewing language or reposting something without knowing the context of where it came from, connected to the problems of image and literally how we represent ourselves, in many ways, can prove us that though we feel like it’s easier to be misunderstood than taken seriously or to generate conflict instead of empathy, maybe it’s good that nobody cares about everything you do anymore. If we accept that people change the way they talk and sometimes they say what they shouldn’t, we’ll be fine; and hopefully, the same works for image and video.