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I fear for the future of reading.

I spent several hours yesterday at Motor Vehicles Commission in Lodi, waiting to get my lost driver’s license replaced. Naturally, I brought my “Cars from a Marriage” cards with me, and a video camera, considering a possible reprise to my car show ambush of a few weeks ago.

By the time I’d gotten my 6 points of ID accepted, though, I didn’t dare do anything that might get me kicked out of the place. It’s one thing to possibly get kicked out of a car show, quite another to lose your spot in a very long line.

But when I’d finally gotten to the sitting part of the wait, I looked around to see if there were any readers, at least, anybody with a book. After all, a visit to a MVC means a wait, and I think as recently as a few years ago, you’d have seen at least a few people with paperbacks.

But nary a one.

Everyone, myself included, was playing with a cell phone device. Everyone was checking Facebook or Twitter or email or texting someone or playing Diamond Twister. Now it is possible that some people were actually reading a book on their iPhone Kindle, but I kind of doubt it.

Our attention spans have been reduced to 140 characters. We have become a nation of twitterers.

I am worried about the national attention span. A few years ago, I read that shows like Sesame Street, with its fast-paced editing, had conditioned children to expect new stimuli every few seconds. If you look at any TV shows from the 1950’s or 60’s, they can seem unbearably slow. TV started shattering our attention spans years ago.

But I think lately, with the ubiquity of the smart phone, it’s gotten worse.

I’m a writer. I depend upon the attention span of readers. But I see my own attention span getting shorter by the moment. During the 30 to 45 minutes I spend daily on the arc machine at the Y, I go back and forth between my iPhone Kindle, iTunes, Facebook and email. I don’t know what’s getting a better work out, my heart or my fingers.

Should I actually find myself with a book made of paper, I will, after a short period of time, want to press something.

Luckily, in the last room at the MVC, where they make you turn off your cell phone, a baby appeared to command my flittering attention. A baby, at least a happy baby, is about the only thing on earth that’s even more entertaining and interactive than playing with an iPhone.

Thank God, because I didn’t have a book.

The idea of sitting on a window seat, or even in a waiting room, and reading a book has become impossibly Jane Austen — as old-fashioned as a formal ball or taking long walks through the heath. It’s sad. Pretty soon, we’re all going to need Ritalin just to read our emails.

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