Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Reading, Writing, Baseball ... and the Death of the Attention Span

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An excellent question someone asked me about one of my recent blogs that dealt with high school students not being interested in, or required to, write short stories got me thinking. The question posed was ... "WHY are they not interested?"

Something that immediately came to mind was the apparent fact that our younger generation's attention spans are getting even shorter than, gulp, the rest of us. And that got me remembering a conversation I heard, of all places, on a sports radio talkshow recently. The host was recalling that when he was a kid, back in the 1970s, the Boston Red Sox played the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series and 75 million Americans tuned in! Seventy-five million people! And that was when the U.S. population was much smaller. A VERY high percentage of Americans, adults and kids, were watching that series. Now, a Major League Baseball playoff game or even World Series contest draws as few as 10 million, from a substantially larger population. "What," he asked, quite interestingly, I thought, "is going on?" He also pointed out that the trade of a high-profile NFL receiver, always outspoken and rarely classy but able to draw quick reactions and headlines, was dominating media reports as he spoke ... at the very time that baseball's playoffs, that league's big show, were about to begin. A few callers mentioned to him that their kids would rather go to tractor pulls or watch two Mixed Martial Arts guys kick the bloody stuffing out of each other in a cage than watch a baseball game. The old American national pastime, they said, would put them to sleep.

Baseball is a slow sport, and as sports go, it's kind of cerebral. If you really follow it, you know that left-handed pitchers are more effective against left-handed batters, and that certain sequences of pitches are also effective, and that everybody on the field signals everybody else about a million times during a contest, and a huge game is going on within the game at all times etc. You also know that there is very little action - lots of thinking, lots of strategy, lots of pausing, then wham, a bit of action ... followed by more pauses.

And THAT, in my opinion and the host's, is why kids, and many adults are tuning out baseball these days. I don't think they should (especially when you consider what they are replacing it with), but they are. It has become too slow for the 21st century. Kids don't want to watch a sport where you have to strategize and think, they want some action and they want it NOW!

Reading, perhaps unfortunately given the current fascination with flashing images and immediate gratification, is also a slow endeavour. High school students likely think it is lame to sit still and write for hours on end. They'd rather look at a graphic novel, watch a You Tube clip, or see a highlight package from a pro sport. And teachers, bless them, are tired of forcing them to do things they don't want to do, or are almost incapable of.

So, reading and writing face challenges in our times. And not because they are boring ... because they aren't. They are fascinating, powered by true imagination, and infinitely worthwhile. Somehow, we have to convince kids that many of them are missing something incredibly powerful ... or some day they may all miss out.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Shane Peacock

Shane Peacock is a biographer, journalist, screenwriter, playwright and novelist. He has received many honours for his writing, including the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Eye of the Crow, the first of his Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Go to Shane Peacock’s Author Page