Physical Media and Raising Interesting People

I wrote the other day about my son and books. I’m not generally any kind of crusader about paper verses digital. But I’m having a little bit of trouble with the tension between all media being digital and raising kids that are interested in the world.

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Kids of the future describing books:

“This is the settings panel.”

“This is the page-turn touch-target on the bezel.”

“This is the ice cold, unfeeling, touch screen. If you stare hard enough, it might stare back.”

I picked up a lot of great habits from my family by seeing how they went about consuming media. My mom and sisters were often around the house reading books. Dad read the paper.

We always ate dinner as a family. But around the time I was in middle school, Peter Jennings became a part of the family. We would watch the news together.

In fact, just having the paper in the house was important in how I became interested in the world.

No one ever told me to read it. But it was there. So when I was sitting around the house, eating breakfast, or whatever else, the paper was there for me to pick up and look through.

On Sunday, Dave Barry was in the back of the Washington Post Magazine. Which, as a young fan of comedy, showed that the written word could be really funny … every few weeks or so, anyways.

I’d read books that were around the house. I’d pull out the ten year old Funk & Wagnall encyclopedia and flip through it, reading about random things for hours on end. Sometimes while procrastinating homework. Sometimes not.

Our House is a Media Desert

Our house is barren of physical media. The bookshelves have a few books on them, but are mostly filled with pictures.

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I go back and forth between ebooks and the real thing. Or at least, I’d like to. The truth is that I get in much more reading when my book is always available and in my pocket. And I’m far too impatient to wait for a book to be delivered or to take a trip to the bookstore/library.

We subscribed to the paper for a few months before realizing that we didn’t have time to sit down with it. Or that we weren’t taking the time to sit down with it.

Magazines that we’ve subscribed to get to the point where they go directly from the mailbox into the recycling bin. We could’ve just left the recycling bin under the mailbox and asked our mailman to just skip the middle man. Lifehack.

And TV news? We can’t put that garbage in front of our kids.

When I’m reading a novel on some sort of device, it looks exactly the same as when I’m mashing the like button on Facebook or raising cortisol levels in my email inbox.

They don’t see me writing things. They see me rubbing and tapping on glass.

I want my kids to see us reading books and magazines and newspapers. There’s no sense of when I’m using “grown-up” media and making things versus the spazzy social media that is eventually going to consume their lives.

We’ll have to try harder.

I want them to know the difference. To have an appreciation for media that requires an attention span and stepping away from the world for a few minutes at a time.

I want them to know that it’s OK if they are not constantly reachable, and that it’s OK if they don’t get back to someone right away. I want them to be alone with their own thoughts and imaginations without the pollution of other people’s spastic posts and emails and snaps and chats and expectations.

I guess there’s not really an answer here besides trying harder. If I want to set the example I want to set, we’re going to have to invite physical media back into our lives. We’ll need to keep the instantly available, backlit convenience of digital books and magazines and websites at arms length. Or at least use it in moderation.

It would be good for the kids, and probably better for us.

My Favorite Nights as a Dad

My oldest boy is five. Turning six soon. I’ve gone out of my way to make sure I can put him to bed every night. It kind-of became my job. When I was still at the agency, I did everything I could to get home in time to put him to bed, even on nights that were insane and involved late work. It’s something I enjoy doing, even when it takes a long time or he tries my patience.

While not every night is like this, there are some nights in his room when there are a good 10 to 15 minutes of pure magic.

It happens when he’s going through whatever winding down activity he’s chosen for the night.

Sometimes it involves quietly racing cars around a track before parking them. He’ll make quiet little engine noises, and then carefully place each car next to another. It’s very methodical and controlled. Nothing spastic about it.

Sometimes he’ll finish drawing “a book” that he’s been working on throughout the day, and then he’ll walk me through the story.

Other times he’ll quietly flip through a book on his own before we sit down to read one together. Sometimes he’ll then tell you about the book itself, the different parts of it and what they are called.

These are my favorite nights.

“This is a hardback book.”

“This is a book jacket.”

“This is the spine. It holds the pages together.”

There is nothing that feels more wholesome than this. I don’t know if it’s some kind of biological thing or if it’s just me, but I am never more relaxed or present than when he does this.

Being present like this, you start to notice the details again. The floppy sound that the pages make as they are being turned. The crackling of the glue in the spine as the pages move. The texture and feel of heavy paper. The distinct smells of dusty older books and the crispness of the new.

The artwork suddenly stands out as big and beautiful. You feel the textures and depth and style that goes into it all. You appreciate the imagination and creativity and the care taken with materials when putting it all together. You wonder about the nonsensical nature of the story being told, and how it came to be written.

These are the moments you remember. You don’t remember the spazzing and yelling and demanding and Sharpying of expensive things.

No digital anything could feel this way.

It’s too fundamental to be replicated.

Nick Cave’s Weather Notebook

So I started to write the Weather Diaries. When I would go into the office every day, I would document what was happening with the weather. I got really into it. I would carry a pad around with me. Any little change I would jot down. I started to see the weather in a different way. It became very exciting when there was really bad weather because I would get to write about it. It led to all sorts of things. But my one responsibility to the project was to document the weather every day. It was looking good, it was looking publishable: the world’s most tedious book. But then I had twins, and I started going to the hospital instead of the office. So it never got finished—it was going to be one solid year. And of course, springtime was rather lovely in London this year, and I think it’s because I paid it some attention last year. I think the weather needs people to pay attention.

I’ve been fighting with myself over whether or not to use analog or digital in everything from work projects to thinking through ideas to just keeping an everyday journal.

The truth is that there is magic to the analog. Putting pen to paper forces a bit more thoughtfulness. It also just feels nice to pull a halfway decent pen across some nice paper. Not to mention the permanence. Something that might be valuable to my kids down the road.

The problem comes later, when you need to find something. Some people take pictures of notebooks or otherwise scan them into digital formats. That seems like too much work.

But, something like this, a daily weather journal, is a perfect use for a good notebook. Because it’s about the present. Mindfulness. All of that. Sure it could be done in digital, but why would you?

Via Austin Kleon