May 5th 2014

Is technology squeezing out precious minutes of reading and quiet reflection from our busy lives? That was the question in last month’s column. Since then I have learned that televisions in restaurants and waiting rooms really hit a nerve with my readers.

So my slogan this month is, Read twenty minutes in public… spread peer pressure!

I am starting to see reading as an act of social justice.  We need to be exhibitionist readers, reading in public allows others to catch our enthusiasm. Consider this column a Call to Arms–arms that are holding  books, periodicals, and electronic readers.

I took my own foray into reader activism this week by summoning the courage to request that a waiting room TV be turned off. I was the only person in the waiting room so it wasn’t that big of a risk but I like to think of it as a start. The courage to do that came from the surprising number of readers who expressed passionate displeasure for the electronic passive-aggression pervading waiting rooms and restaurants.

Kathy Cooke’s comments are a sampling of responses I received from Bulletin readers, “Once again your Bulletin article was enjoyable, informative and timely. I am constantly annoyed with the blaring mindless TV shows I am subject to in many waiting rooms. Your point is very well taken… start a campaign among waiting room managers (of all industries) to turn off the TV and create a reading spot…  a reading refuge…. creative people can come up with many more ideas along these lines… Maybe an Eagle Scout could take it on, or NMSU students majoring in literacy/reading?”

My first furtive attempt at subversive reading activism occurred a few months ago in a surgery waiting room. There, a roomful of quietly preoccupied people ignored a blaring TV.  Not one person was watching the cooking show. Sheepishly, I looked around for someone in authority to appeal to but there wasn’t anyone. Timidly, I reached up and turned down the volume a little. I searched faces for a protest but no one even looked up. I turned down the volume a little more; still no response from anyone. Now, I must admit, at that point I was tempted to turn the TV off. Somehow, that seemed like being too forward so I left it at that and tried to concentrate on my Kindle. In the ensuing months I have been wondering why I had trouble defying the authority of a TV no one was watching.

So this week, all alone in the mammography waiting chamber, wearing nothing more than the terrycloth robe they provided, I sat meekly and summoned up naked courage. *

When the technician arrived to tell me my wait was extended, I boldly proclaimed my unusual request.

Please turn off that monstrously loud and chatty video pest.

My nemesis, television, like Yertle of Dr. Suess fame,

Was mounted up higher than that poor woman’s reach,

But with my encouragement, she wielded a coffee cup into the breach.

She pressed the off button and quit that mad chatter.

The silence was blissful and quiet prevailed.

With sincere gratitude I opened my tome.

I felt like just like Mack at the base of the throne.

Little Mack burped anew.

Noise pollution was thwarted and

Reading broke through.


*Apologies to poets everywhere