“Minds Like Empty Rooms”

Sometimes I feel strangely anachronistic. It may be the normal process of aging, but it often feels like something more. I’m not a curmudgeon, or a Luddite, or a cheerleader for a return to a simpler time (mostly, depending on who you ask). But there are certainly moments when I have my reservations about this “connected” world, as evidently does Harper Lee.

The author of one of the most important books of modern times, in four words, paints a metaphor that speaks and resonates, as great writing (and speaking) always does –  she sadly describes the mental life of the young connected generation thusly: “minds like empty rooms”.

I suppose every generation assesses their successors in somewhat critical terms and that should be a serious grain of salt for consumption. But to overlook some of the obvious developments in the intellectual life of the younger generation you’d have to be profoundly, like them, escapist. It seems to be composed of equal parts narcissism, pop culture and worshipful pursuit of entertainment and diversion; the prevailing motto could easily be “Superficial Rules!”. Their preferred music is dumber; their capacity for nuance and complexity is miniscule.

This all likely originates in an overall reduction in the ability to focus on anything whatsoever for more than a few seconds. As I’ve had the dubious privilege of doing some teaching, I know firsthand that grammar is an anachronism, “research” has been reduced to a mouse click (can you guess which one?) and composition has been supplanted by the “mash-up”. Actually reading a book? (“LOL!”) No wonder Harper Lee despairs. I just look away.

No doubt there are still students and artists and craftspeople laboring at shaping and refining ideas, putting in the time necessary for mastery of their respective enterprise and generally paying their dues, but I bet this group gets smaller by the minute. When you see them, praise them, encourage and enjoy them – they’re a dying breed.

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