Page 18 - Independent Schools Magazine
P. 18

 FOMO & the book
Charlotte Weatherley, Assistant Head, at Knighton House School, Dorset, discusses whether reading books could be the counterweight to the dangers of social media and suggests some books and websites to consider...
Recently, I had a startling conversation with a teenager. Not a grunting teenager, but a highly articulate, ‘out there’ sort of teen, think Teen Vogue and shopping at Brandy Melville; the conversation between us went something like this:
‘I am thinking of cancelling my Instagram account.’
‘My friends and I are unhappy
with its sapping of our free time and  nding the energy required
to monitor the permanent traf c
of pictures is killing us; plus, it’s exhausting to be in a constant state of visual perfection readiness.’
‘Doesn’t it say in that book you keep quoting at us (she meant ‘Swimming Upstream, Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture’ by Laura H. Choate) that girls have taken up ‘online’ as simply another way to judge themselves (often as wanting) and it’s a further obstacle to a productive, ful lled life? I don’t want to be judging and scrutinising the microscopic, better-left-private details of my contemporaries’ lives, and I don’t want everyone judging and scrutinising mine.’
My part in the conversation
was clearly negligible, my usual loquaciousness on matters relating to the young consisting only of a series of sprightly exclamation marks. Like many teachers, I see social media as established and necessary to life, adolescent life speci cally
– it is how our pupils connect with each-other, how they (and we) access information about the world (in a 2016 survey, 28% of teens were getting their news via social media), for some, an addiction, for others a positive platform for self-expression. I worried greatly (as do most adults) about the impact social media was having on the mental well-being
of young people, but it had not occurred to me for one moment that perhaps these thoughts chimed with those of young people themselves.
18 Literature, Language, Library
Antidotes to social media’s non-stop search for new audiences do in fact exist; a quick look online gives us humour (you laugh in the face of the Photo Shopped), the Liberal
Arts (I think that means acting and painting your way through the pain of 50 not 100 Likes) and detox (asking your parents to hide all devices, trying to make it through the day, cold turkey) but what about books? Could the printed word be once again at the forefront of a revolution? Could reading be the counterweight to what we hate about social media: the cats and cucumbers are funny, we really love our connected life, but how we abhor the need to fashion an online persona so alien to our real selves.
Gutenberg would be tickled pink to think books could do this, and as for the lads who invented Cuneiform, one of the earliest known writing systems (invented about 5000
years ago), they wouldn’t need convincing, but how could it work, how persuade a generation of You Tubers that the ‘rush’ induced by a sneezing baby panda or a laughing goat, could also be felt when reading a great book? Here is how I think it might work: listed below are social media sites/websites and book titles, each listing explains the site, followed by how the book taps into the themes of its digital counterpart. So, before naturally reaching for your device this time (the heaviest users check their phones 5,427 times a day, according to researcher Dscout), reach for the book; not an instant return, it must be admitted, but an effort worth making: no-one to criticise your thinking, no-one to demand you answer now and no- one to derail you with their views, just your own judgement and your own enjoyment; solo.
Social Media Site and
Its Book Counterpart: funny-pinterest-fails/and Why
We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf: there is almost nothing funnier than the melted wax crayon art fail, but the ‘fails’ in Why We
Took the Car resonate even more deeply because we recognise them as our own, small, every day failings as well – ‘When someone doesn’t have any nicknames, it’s for one of two reasons. Either you’re incredibly boring and don’t get any because of that, or you don’t have any friends. But there is one other possibility. You could be boring and have no friends. And I’m afraid that’s my problem.’ Ouch.
You Tube – What Went Viral
in 2017 and Stolen by Lucy Christopher: if you Google
‘What Went Viral in 2017’ one
result is the Los Angeles-based choreographer Kyle Hanagami’s, ‘Shape of You’ routine; the dancing is intense, sensuous and absolutely mesmerising, rather like Lucy Christopher’s novel – kidnapped at an airport, the main character is torn between desire for, and fear of, her young captor. The book is written
as one intensely felt letter to the perpetrator.
You Tube’s Cat vs Cucumber compilation and All Dogs Have ADHD by Kathy Hoopman: cats
and cucumbers are just enduringly funny (although who doesn’t love the fainting goats), but whilst the laughs in Kathy Hoopman’s book are genuine, the message is much more in earnest. watch?v=xuCn8ux2gbs and Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin: in The History of the World, I Guess by Bill Wurtz, the creation of the universe is explained in 20 minutes – clever, extremely clever, but not the sustained cleverness of our universe re-imagined, as in Ryan Graudin’s YA novel: ‘The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world...’ The poignancy of this novel, the energy of the motorbike riders who race to win an audience with Adolf Hitler, is all told through the voice of the brutalised Yael, child of the concentration camps. and The Illustrator’s Notebook by Mohieddine Ellabbad: Bored
Panda showcases art and design by incredibly talented people across the globe and describes itself as
the only magazine for pandas; The Illustrator’s Notebook takes a similar broad view of art, from both the Western and the Arabic traditions; without the pandas. and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: Instagram tells us all we want to know of breaking news, but the novel Persepolis represents the reality to an adolescent, already grappling boys, spots and personal identity, of repressive regimes, war and refugee status; in its use of the graphic novel format, it is even more powerful for the seeming disconnect between form and content.
Net ix and The Ghost Child
by Sonya Hartnett: Nothing can be better than watching a great  lm and to compare the genre of  lm with that of the written word is risky, but The Ghost Child has a cinematic quality which is quite staggering, with parts of the book playing out in your head like stills from a  lm reel: ‘His royal spirit, disturbed winging like a dark bat into the sky.’ ‘He was a kestrel, an eel, a lacewing.’
Making the landscape of books too separate from their online lives, as though young people can juggle only one or the other, has been a mistake that we adults have made for them. The teen of the original conversation is from a well-read family, but she admits that among her peers, talking about books was about as likely as Kim Kardashian being made UK ambassador for Start-rite shoes, because nowhere was it given a platform. Teachers
try to incorporate the best aspects
of social media into their teaching
in the hope of retaining the interest of their pupils, losing sight along
the way of the powerful bene ts of being a reader, not least that readers are happier, healthier and more connected to their communities than their non-reading opposites and consequently much better placed to balance the demands which social media makes upon them.

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