If a podcast and a survey had sex, this post would be its love child. I am tempted to bring in Munchaloompas here, but this post will be weird enough as is.
How often does this seemingly random mashing and thrashing of information happen to you? For me, not often enough. It is one of the reasons I love/fear the addiction of the Net. I figure the longer I am here, the more likely it is I will get this happy accident to happen. No, I know serendipity doesn’t work that way, but here’s how it went down.
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts the other day, “Reply All”, while I was bushhogging. I love podcasts. You can take them anywhere. I love Reply All especially because of its variety and depth. I can count on knowing not only something more but something better and deeper. It is always surprising.
Podcast with show notes.
I almost had to quit working and just listen to this particular podcast (above). It was alternately ‘milk squirting out the nose’ funny and ‘this cannot be true’ sad. Without spoiling too much of this priceless podcast I can tell you it is the story of mistaken identity that leads to the revelation that there are:
- millions of fans of a pre-teen/tween/teen boy band I am only lightly aware of called One Direction (1D),
- in the larger set of 1D fans exists a subset of perhaps hundreds of thousands called “larry stylinsons” or just larrys for short,
- the main tenet of the larrys is that there is a conspiracy to hide in plain view the obvious fact that two of the band members are gay and in love with each other (Harry Styles + Louis Tomlinson= Larry Stylinson).
- this fact is obvious to them, but they put an inordinate amount of energy in demonstrating on forums, in Twitter, on YouTube and wherever conspiracies are sold that this is indeed a case of the band’s management and label trying to keep truth in that needs to be out.
I know that there are conspiracy groups everywhere, but I never knew that there were ones that made so much over so little. Of course, that’s just my opinion, man. It is a big deal to the larrys of the world, the hundreds of thousands of them that create stuff like this to prove their point to those who would doubt:
This would be an ordinary if weirdly ordinary story of true love seeking redemption with the help of young women everywhere (that is the main demographic of 1D), but it doesn’t stop there for me. Remember that I had been bushhogging? When I came in I grabbed some well-deserve iced green tea and sat down for some serendipity on the Net.
What I chanced upon was a post at KQED’s Mindshift on tween and teen literacy: “Why Don’t Teens Read For Pleasure Like They Used To?” The tl;dr version of the post was this: research by CommonSenseMedia on the reading habits of kids and teens found that reading for fun was way down. Or you could look at a much more interesting summary that they provided along with my annotations:
I suppose I “lucked up” on this research brief and infographic, but it did ride in on my Inoreader RSS feed on purpose. I suppose it also got there because KQED played a major role in the MOOC I helped facilitate/participate in this summer. The fact that I glommed onto their feeds so as to not miss out on their brilliance really wasn’t a happenstance. I suppose I chanced upon it, but the real lottery here was that I came to the article after listening to Reply All while on the tractor. That particular synchrony was pretty off-the-charts improbable. If I had moved the electric fence like I should have before coming in, I don’t doubt I would have collapsed in front of our single overworked window unit air conditioner while watching something on Hulu. No words would ‘ere have been writ.
What was most important in making the link between post and podcast was the demographic one. Both are about a tweens and teens. And because of this obvious discovery, the podcast might go a long way toward explaining some of the questions the post raises.
I was hard struck by the “reading for fun” category in the infographic above. If you think of fun as a pie chart (or just as a pie which really is fun unless it’s mincemeat and that would just be wrong) it looks like a finite resource. That is arguable, but let’s just accept that as given for now. If it is finite, where the hell did all the fun go for 17 and 13-year olds? They lost 18% and 14% respectively of their total fun. Why isn’t there a revolution among this demographic to get their fun back?
No one stole their fun. They are just distributing it in “better” places. They are, also, finding it in many more places than ever before. They are rooting it out in Twitter, tumblr, Facebook, and YouTube as “larrys”.
What does this signify to those of us who do knowledge work as teachers and coaches and mentors? For one thing, we cannot count on the cushion we got for years from this ‘reading for pleasure’. And by cushion I mean fluency and sheer competence. And by competence I mean vocabulary and the million words you need to have read to be a disciplined reader. (This carries over into competent writing, too, by the way.)
For another thing, the cognitive sink they are investing in (the online universe) is one we do not value like we have valued reading for pleasure. We don’t have a survey that looks at measuring how ‘larrying’ has grown over the last decade. That’s just absurd on its face. Who cares about ‘larrying’? They do. Very. Much.
We have to ask this: is ‘larrying’ just as valuable as “reading for pleasure”?
And that is when I started thinking hard about what this future really invites. I originally wrote ‘portends’ because the future often seems to me like it did for Lady Macbeth–a hell that is murky. Then I realized that there might just as likely be lots of ‘brights and shinies’ there. Where does a future with Larry Stylinson beckon us?
1. The larrys are still readers, but they are also makers and doers. There are probably a higher proportion of makers than takers among this group.
2.The larrys value their passions above all else, especially their pleasure reading. Their pleasure reading is tied up in pleasure doing.
3. Larrying activity might be the future equivalent to pleasure reading
4. There are larrys aplenty in your learning environs–clever, creative, autodidacts who know something AND more importantly can figure out how to learn more on their own.
5. The larrys represent latent learning capacity that can be extended elsewhere.
6. And many more adjacent possibles that arise from the initial condition of being a larry
There is much more here than we can see in the murky future’s roar, but there are hints that while all is not perfect, all might be well enough as we muddle toward it.
I still don’t like 1D’s music, but I love every passionate conspiracy-seeing Louise, Harry and Larry that is trying to make sense of their world. Isn’t that what we want ultimately in any learner? Someone who seeks, makes sense of, and shares with the world? I hope so.
If this upsets you, then Yogi Berra gives us a little zen wisdom as a balm for this brave new world. Listen to Yogi.