Charles Dickens the renowned literary genius was born 200 years ago. His prowess in the English language allowed him to play games through his story telling ability that continues to captivate his modern audience. Yet whilst most adults recognise this exceptional and lasting talent we are witnessing a trend in children who fail to recognise the essence of his stories. And this is due to their reducing attention span. In this rapidly changing educational world can literacy excellence continue to compete with the rapid spread shot fire of Twitter and Facebook to attract attention?
Ironically this is where Dickens stories started. His intriguing scripts were written as a serialised novel that appeared each month in newspapers and periodicals. Dickens knew how to capture the attention of his audience and entice them to read the next chapter. He was writing soap story scripts centuries before the TV variant appeared. But with due deference to the modern script writer the Dickens version were rich in content, character and story lines that are relevant even today. Coronation Street, Eastenders, and Emmerdale story lines pass into oblivion in a couple of weeks.
Dickens style captured the imagination in ways modern authors struggle to emulate. His command of English allowed his novels to be easily adapted to for films, theatre and serialised in modern TV dramas. The rich variety of characters holding the attention comparable to the likes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and J.K. Rawling’s Harry Potter stories. But even these literary masters use the same characters in a continuing theme rather than a completely different story and character base used by Dickens.
Bleak House and Great Expectations contain details that helps to portray the characters’ social history in an intriguing way history textbooks can never achieve. So why are the modern story telling abilities in children being eroded? Claire Tomlin who wrote a detailed analysis on the life and times of Dickens believes much is due to the attention span of children that has been eroded through modern influences. Television, films and modern communications involving text and Twitter have conspired to reduce storytelling to an abbreviated sound bite of 140 characters.
Whilst this may achieve the objective of immediate communication the development of imaginative literacy is stifled as a consequence. Claire Tomlin is also concerned over the reduced emphasis on story telling in English language education. The thought process to link ideas, situation and character stimulate the senses and logical thought. This clear objective supports many subject areas and is a huge benefit in the educational learning process. Regrettably our lives are now being thrust down the opposite route. One hundred and forty characters, hash tags and @ truncating a thought process or the opportunity to articulate a detailed explanation.
A study by the Centre On Media and Child Health in Boston, Massachusetts discovered children’s attention span was significantly reduced when a TV was playing in the background whilst they were playing. Minimedia in Australia also discovered that many children’s programmes on TV; crammed with rapid animation, frequent scene changes and music ostensibly to maintain a child’s attention actually had the opposite effect. Children became mesmorised by the effects rather than the subject matter.This distraction hinders learning and although the child seemed intent on the activity on the TV they were absorbing very little in comparison to a simple approach where the child felt more in control.
Children would benefit enormously being taught to appreciate Dickens and the strength and depth of his literature. Still highly relevant after 200 years they would improve their learning capacity and creative ability. Not many forms of instant communication could make that claim.