Digital Slob


Reading for fun isn’t
what it used to be

Generally speaking, Digital Slobs shun any reading material that can't be viewed on a Web browser or bound by staples. We even think the last five syllables in haiku are overkill.

Some Respectable People, who pretend to read while eating muffins at Barnes & Noble, vilify the latest tech toys for stealing reading's limelight, from MP3 players to video games.

A few might even trace the death of reading to Vanna White's 1987 autobiography "Vanna Speaks," undisputedly the flesh-eating virus of literature.

But I blame Eli Whitney.

Why pick on Ol' Eli, you say? If you knew me well, you might think it's a personal grudge, since his cotton gin ripped the right hand off my grandfather, so maybe I just like to blame everything I can on Mr. Whitney.

But if you knew me as well as my family knows me, you'd know I hated my grandfather (he used to chase me around with his stump, his perverse giggles drowned out by a 4-year-old's horrified screams), and you'd stay objective about my objectivity. As dangerous as it must seem by now, pretend for a moment you know me this well.

After Eli's invention ate my granddaddy's hand, the boss man put up a sign that said, "WATCH YOUR HANDS." A useful sign, though not as effective a deterrent as my granddaddy's new nub, I suspect.

Still, that was one of the first nails in the coffin for reading. At that point, literacy became just a little less fun and a little more necessary. Nowadays, you have to read to survive or, at least, keep all your digits.

In Ye Olden Times (before cable TV but after hobbit Frodo saved Middle-Earth), more people put their backs into their jobs, digging, farming and burning witches and stuff. You know, three-dimensional work.

Medieval Joe Blows had to go outdoors to find food since Domino's Pizza, afraid of the Black Plague, refused to even answer the phone until 1960.

Our ancestors left night-owling to actual night owls, rarely flossed and generally stunk up the place since the king kept all the sweet-smelling stuff in high, hard-to-reach places.

In that world, what was there to look forward to? A cozy study out of the punishing sun, a nip of brandy, a few leeches applied topically if your were a New Age health nut, and a good book to pull you into a more exciting two-dimensional world.

Reading was fun when people were too physically tired at the end of the day to do anything except maybe focus their eyes.

Now, people are too mentally tired after working in two dimensions to read. Once an escape from work, reading is now work itself. With apologies to the '80s rock group Loverboy, Everybody's Data Processing for the Weekend.

Imagine a ditch digger asking another, "Hey, you want to go ditch-digging this weekend? It'll be fun, mind-expanding ditch-digging, unlike our regular 90-hours-a-week ditch-digging."

"Hmm, sounds like work to me," says the other ditch digger.

More and more people view reading for fun with all the enthusiasm of Ditch Digger No. 2.

Used to be, a human being would tell us what part of our job could maim or kill us. Now we have to read to figure it out, either taped to a cotton gin or blinking from a computer monitor. So, the next time we wax poetic about the nation's deaf ear for nuanced prose, keep in mind it's the price we had to pay (with at least one granddaddy's hand thrown in) so Ol' Cotton King Eli could forever free us from chafing leather skivvies.

Curt Brandao is the Star-Bulletin's
production editor. Reach him at

E-mail to Business Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --