"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Monday, February 23, 2015

"I Used to Read Books" A Teen's Perspective on Literature, Learning and Life in the Tech Age...


Noelle Sterne

In research on a website for an academic client, I came across a poem I can only describe as remarkable. The poem is by Allison Iwaszkiewicz, a recent high school graduate. When I read the poem, I realized this young writer has something important to say that should be heard not only by her peers but also by all adults.

Allison's poem was part of a high school senior English project in which the students studied Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The focus of study was the intersection of technology and humanity, and in response, Allison wrote the poem “Heroes to Hashtags.”

I asked Allison to describe the genesis of the poem. Her essay, here after the poem, shows not only her talent but her insights. Admittedly one teen’s (heartfelt) observations, nevertheless what Allison has to say should neutralize that head-shaking declaration that all of today's teenagers are umbilicaled to their iPhones and its clones.

* * * * * *
Heroes to Hashtags

Allison Iwaszkiewicz

I used to read books

The words flew off the page

and took me to Camelot

where I fought the Saxons' rage

I became the fifth March sister

and through the words I shared their sorrow

as Beth's sickness overtook her

and stole all her tomorrows

I went to the wilds of Africa

where the words introduced me to the Jungle Man

We swung through the canopy without a care

and tamed the greatest beasts on land

But now my pages are faded

though for years I have not seen

My waking dreams gave way

to an endless scrolling screen

Cherished talk at the Round Table

has become endless, empty tweets

The mists have hidden Avalon once more

My need for adventure sleeps

Amy's perfect drawings

Instagram replaces

Quick sketches of Paris streets

turn to haunting, smiling faces

Perhaps most sad of all

is the loss of dear Lord Greystoke

The precious Opar Jewels we stole

have been destroyed by Facebook

As technology advances

I beg you hear my words!

Do not fall into the trap

as to Apple we flock in herds

Adventure is still out there

Do not forget your favorite books

Feed that hunger you once had

and to the text just look

* * * * * * *
The Origin of
“Heroes to Hashtags”


Allison Iwaszkiewicz

Although the English project was what finally made me write the poem down, the feelings had been building up for quite some time. Specifically, since about the Christmas of my sophomore year in high school. That year's gift from Santa was the black hole where spare time and hobbies go to die—the iPhone. As my poem says, "I used to read books." December 25, 2011, was that line of demarcation.  

I was slowly changing: the fingers that used to turn the page to the next chapter now type "LOLs” and "OMGs” to people with whom I hardly communicate face-to-face. The mind that once imagined strolling through the bustling streets of London with Sherlock Holmes now focuses on incessantly scrolling through Vines (a Twitter offshoot of short videos instead of 140-character blurbs).  

Don't get me wrong. I love my latest iPhone just as much as every other teen privileged enough to have one. I text my friends about the night's plans, browse Twitter for some quick laughs, and delete embarrassing posts on my Facebook wall from relatives commenting on how fast I'm growing up. Siri often tells me where the nearest restaurants are, and I burn through many a TV series via the Netflix app.

The Swiss army knife of cell phones, the iPhone is the ultimate multitasking tool. It is also an amazing piece of technology and an indicator of how far human invention has come. A handful of years ago, one had to find a pay phone to make a call, photos had to be taken somewhere to be developed and seen, and encyclopedias held all the answers.  

Fast forward to the present day, and we've combined these three items into a pocket-sized device. Let's not forget too the built-in calculator, compass, roadmap, and other innumerable apps.  

What could be so bad about such a tiny rectangle of plastic and metal? In a perfect world, nothing. The technology we've been given would be used for learning, for communicating ideas and information, for the betterment of society as a whole. When technology is used for those purposes, the results are amazing.  
But what really grinds my gears is that so many of my generation has decided to use this technology for cyber bullying, posting duck-faced selfies, and skirting around assigned reading by mining SparkNotes. And our
“social” life has become robotic. More often than not, hanging out with my friends means sitting near them while we all stare at our phones. We laugh together at a funny (or stupid) video or tweet on our Twitter feed, but the chuckles are fleeting and hollow.

I cringe when I realize how much time I've wasted. Time that could have been spent reading, writing, drawing, or playing the guitar I haven't touched in years. People supposedly spend a third of their lives sleeping. I'd like to see the statistics on cell phone use—or maybe I wouldn’t. What large fraction of my teenage years has been sacrificed to Apple?

The sad thing is that although I recognize the negative effect my iPhone has had on my life. I do nothing to change it. Instead I imprison myself behind the (connection) bars of social media.  

I imagine an addict might feel the same way. "I can stop anytime!" a technology-enslaved teen insists to her worried parents. "Just let me finish posting this . . . ." Her thumbs are a blur as she decorates her Instagram caption with unnecessary hashtags: #like4like #hashtag #picoftheday #summer.  
I'm unsure what momentous day the number of Facebook or Instagram "likes" a person amasses reflects their worth as a human being, but that day is surely a sad one. Social media has made my generation completely reliant on constant peer approval; it
s our drug. Seeing a post with more “likes” than our own almost always results in animosity. A venomous “I can’t believe she got so many likes. She’s not even pretty!” is the battle cry of many a frenemy cold war.

Technology and social media have also made it easier than ever before to deride other people. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count: a Twitter spat erupts out of almost nothing, hateful Facebook comments shoot back and forth over something as trivial as the weather.

I wrote “Heroes to Hashtags” because I see the insidious coils of technology, like these above, wrapping tighter and tighter around the cell-phone generation, and not only myself, my classmates, and peers, but also increasingly younger kids and tweens. I wrote the poem because my eleven-year-old brother couldn't be bothered to look up from his phone to admire the miles of rolling hills as we drove through Pennsylvania last week. I wrote the poem because at dinner in a restaurant my two-year-old cousin ignored the crayons and kids’ menu and went straight for her mom's iPhone.

I wrote this poem because, as I was writing this essay, I received seven Facebook notifications, two Twitter updates, four Instagram likes, and six text messages, one of them irate because I hadn’t yet responded to the first one.

When does it stop?

# # #

Noelle Sterne admires Allison Iwaszkiewicz for her sane perspective and wishes that, at Allison’s age, she could have written so well. A writer and dissertation coach and editor, Noelle never left school. Her forthcoming book, to be published by Rowman & Littlefield Education (2015), helps struggling doctoral candidates: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles.

Allison Iwaszkiewicz lived in Westerville, Ohio, most of her life and is a freshman at Miami University, Ohio, studying biology and environmental science. She was a cheerleader throughout high school and, despite such extroversion, has always enjoyed hiding away with a good book. Her favorite hobbies include writing, drawing, and kayaking with her family.

Your turn, readers.


  1. "Umbilicalled to their IPhones" so true!
    Allison wrote a marvelous poem. I know she will return to her roots and flip pages again. Once you get the feel and smell of a good book in your system, you can't get it out.

    1. Lin,

      I totally agree. Right? Thanks so much for stopping by and starting us off.

  2. The Swiss army knife of cell phones. I wish I'd written that! What a remarkable young woman and writer. You'll go far, Allison, and we "older writers" will be right there in your corner. Thank you for introducing us to her, Jen. Have a wonderful week ladies!

    1. We greatly appreciate your feedback and support here, Sue. Thanks to Noelle too, for bringing this work to the public.

  3. When I was younger, my parents despaired because I wouldn't take the time to admire the rolling hills and lakes we passed on our vacation... because I was too busy reading a book. But plenty of kids didn't read even before we had iPhones. And plenty of kids download the Kindle app and read *on* their iPhone.

    Technology's not the problem--it's what you choose to do with it. Perhaps we simply need to spend more time teaching our kids how to use these new technologies in constructive ways.

    1. Interesting perspective. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  4. This young lady, Allison, makes valid points in her poem and her essay. I love the phrases she uses, "Umbilicallled to their iphones" and "Swiss army knife of cell phones" made me think of some adults I know. I am aware of some people who have electronics but don't seem to have funds for much else. I guess it comes down to prioirities.

    1. quietspirit,

      Hi again! Welcome back. I couldn't agree more.

      Thanks for adding to the mix.

  5. I'm in awe of this writer's way with words. I have written poetry and would like to write more. I've only written one thing, ever, that in any way captures the truth like this. While I agree that technology is not the problem, and while I, too, used to miss the scenery while I was reading, I'd say that's not completely the point. The point is being aware, I think, of what you're missing. At least part of the point, anyway.

  6. Hi Angie,

    We greatly appreciate what you've shared today. Thanks so much for your time. :-)

    1. And thank you just for posting this. I have been reading Pen and Prosper off and on for almost a year. You have a way with words and with knowing what to say. Thank you for sharing this poem. I'm not so much with commenting, usually, but I had to chime in on this one.

    2. Angie,
      How very kind of you; your words of appreciation mean more than I can say today. Readers like you keep me going! In fact, I just baked a fresh batch of Peanut Butter cookies, and if I knew how to find you, I'd send some your way. :-) Keep warm thoughts.

  7. Jennifer and All--

    So glad to read the comments about Allison and her insights. She is very talented and I know will go far. Thank you all for your appreciation.