Our Town: Tolstoy vs. TikTok? You decide

Our Town: Tolstoy vs. TikTok? You decide
Why bother reading Tolstoy when you can spend the night watching Tik-Tok videos (Photo by Tom Ferraro)

During the summer months, my morning ritual is to get up early, make some coffee and saunter out onto my back porch to do some reading.   I will first inspect the koi pond, look over the garden and settle down with a book I must read  for my work or some classic of literature that I want to read for personal pleasure.

This morning I decided to indulge myself with a classic, so I  picked up “Anna Karenina” by Tolstoy.  I’ve only just begun this 900-page masterpiece, but I’m already hooked. Tolstoy is an amazing stylist and one of the three great Russian writers, the others being Dostoevsky and Chekov. I had recently seen the Joffrey Ballet perform “Anna Karenina” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, last month, so I decided it was high time to read Tolstoy.

The ballet revealed the major theme of the book, which is that love is very hard to find and that fidelity is the great challenge in life.  After about 30 minutes of reading the book, I checked my cell phone to see the time and inadvertently hit the TikTok app.

I was predictably mesmerized with the many 10-second videos that had gone viral on TikTok. There was a series of clips on “boat fails” showing yachts capsizing under big waves. Then there was a series of videos of bar scenes where young men were pulling the hair of young women and it ended with one of the women turning around and punching the guy in the face. There was a video of a girl using a belt to knock off the hat of her boyfriend and finally one of a guy tripping over something in the road.

They all reminded me of the sadistic glee of a Beavis and Butthead cartoon.  And intermingled with these videos were cleverly disguised ads that looked like just another video clip but were advertising drinks, clothing and other things.  What could be better?

Which of these experiences is more useful for the human to be watching?  Even a slow thinking 10-year-old will admit that it is far better to be reading a good book than watching an endless series of mindless, sadistic yet enjoyable if not downright addictive clips of luxury yachts being capsized.   But let’s just say this 10-year-old demands some proof that a Tolstoy masterpiece is better for him than TikTok watching.

Remind him that Russia has a population of 144 million people and that Leo Tolstoy is one of the top three Russian writers in their history, which positions Tolstoy as one of the brightest and most talented Russian out of 144 million people. Then compare this statistic to any random TikToker who will be an average girl or boy without any particular talent other than being able push down on a cell phone play button for 10 seconds while observing someone get humiliated and hurt in some way.

So which is better, to read about the intimate worries and  wonderings of one of the best minds in Russian history or to watch a drunken kid pull the hair of an unsuspecting girl in a bar and then get punched in the face for his prank? Is it better to devote 60 captivating, edifying hours of reading to acquaint oneself with the mind of a genius or to watch a series of 10-second video clips to acquaint yourself with the mind of a drunken teenager?

I suspect the answer to all this is obvious.  But this takes us to our next problem.   When this teenage TikToker becomes as adult and is invited to a dinner party, they will only be equipped with knowledge of TikTok videos, which does not make for substantial or even mildly interesting dinner conversation.

But have no fear, for this TikToker will also have some knowledge of alcoholic beverages, thanks to exposure to Tik-Tok videos taken in bars, so they can ask the host:  “What do you have to drink?” Here they are on sure footing now. They possess a blissful, magical and easy answer to the difficult question: “What in the world will I talk about at the dinner party?”  The answer will be “pour me another”

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