I am currently reading Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions by James E. Ryan which is a quick appreciation of 5 questions. The title of the book, and the first question discussed “WAIT, WHAT?” is something I ask all day, every day. It is a request for clarification, an invitation to explain, a purposeful pause, an admission of ignorance, a way to gather facts before a judgment or decision. Very versatile.

Teenagers staring at screens often elicits this question from me. This morning I watched a teenager walk between classes while watching a video of someone walking. Right, left. Right, left. Walking while watching a video of someone walking. I stopped her to ask what she was doing. She confirmed my confusion, but her answer didn’t make enough sense to fit into this sentence. It’s the screens that keep getting the WAIT, WHAT? out of me.

The other day I heard a student ask another student, “Are you watching a video of a man slicing up ham?” He quickly responded, “It’s not ham. It’s roast beef.” (This reminds me of when I walked in on a roommate spreading chunky peanut butter in his armpit. I asked, “Why are you spreading chunky peanut butter in your armpit?” He responded, “We were out of creamy and toothpaste didn’t work.”)

I’m still haunted by this statement from a young scholar describing a trip in a car: “My phone was at 87% power. What was I supposed to do, look out the window?” Yes. Right? Is that a crazy response these days? Yes. Look out the window. Argh. I know. Commenting on the comment about the thunder heard on Facebook. People in the same room not talking to each other. Students watching videos of people playing video games. Flappy Birds, Angry Birds, and the clashing of clans and the crushing of candy. Someone walking while watching a video of someone else walking. It’s all a WAIT, WHAT? to me.

IRONY ALERT: I want to say, to each screen starer, PLEASE READ A BOOK, or write one. But isn’t reading a book another way of not being in the present moment too? Yeah. It is. But I think it’s different. There are studies that show the benefits of deep reading, of sustained reading, of reading material that has been edited and gone through multiple drafts that aren’t replicated by scrolling through Facebook or scanning Instagram. But reading is a form of not being present.  To me, all the screen staring is like having a diet of Skittles all day. There are long term consequences for the short term sugar rush. 

I get that there are a myriad of reasons why you would eat Skittles instead of carrots. But carrots help you see. And I’ve heard too the analogy of reading as vegetable eating and can hear how it has a schoolmarmish prescriptivism and chore-like feel to it. But carrots help you see. And carrots are delicious. That’s the thing. And once you develop a taste for carrots the offer of a diet full of Skittles would seem as what,wait?ridiculous as a diet of screen staring seems to me.

A student told me the other day that if he was in prison alone in a cell he still wouldn’t read. WAIT, WHAT? The same student saw me in the hall today and said WAIT, WHAT? with different words. I was wearing a purple dress shirt, tie, jeans, and Choco sandals. He informed me that what I was doing was just wrong.



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