Just this week I read a new article about the collective loss of an important skill. We have, as a society, lost the ability to read.
This is not new news. Neil Gaiman spoke about the importance of reading and libraries in 2013. In 2010 Karen Hovde spoke of the importance of reading, of libraries, and the folly of relying on digital editions of everything. During the same year, Nicholas Carr wrote The Shallows, later nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Each of these writers has raised an alarm that no one can hear. Our inability to read well, and read deeply, does not mean we have lost the ability to make sense of the words in this blog post, or in numerous articles like the ones linked above, but instead, that we have collectively rewired out neuropathways. We are hooked on fast and easy information. Reading has become a simple heresy. It is not just the children teething on tablets and smartphones, nor is it only the young adults who brokered teenage relationships in AOL chatrooms, but the neurological changes are evident in the cynical GenXers and BabyBoomers who are reprogramming the worlds most adaptable processing hardware – the human brain. What has changed in the discussions surrounding the ability to read like we did a century ago, is how we talk about it.
The articles and books from 2010 to 2013 speak of the travesty of intellectual loss. The 2018 article, by Canadian writer and journalist Michael Harris, discusses how we are reverting to a more natural state of distraction and that change is inevitable. It is comforting to read that the dumbing down of society is inevitable because our brains are easily distracted, however, we have managed to overcome our wiring and find a deeper ability to imagine, to understand, and to empathize through reading. Should we let that ability diminish in favor of fast and easy entertainment?
Paired with the loss of cursive as a school subject in all but a handful of United States schools, numerous historical documents are no longer accessible to graduating classes of high school seniors. Firstly, they were written in the long-thought format of pre-digital minds, and secondly, they were written in the long-hand of a pre-print society. If our children’s children continue on the path of fast and easy information, then the less than 8,000 words of the Constitution and Amendments will be as incomprehensible as the Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs were before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone.
The plasticity of our personal supercomputers allows us to rebuild, or in some cases start building the pathways required for deep, independent, imaginative thought. We just have to exercise our minds and we can do that by reading books. Pick up, and work through every page of an actual factual, ink on paper, book. It may be slow, it may be difficult, but the future is worth it.
Originally published on Simple Heresy. You may find the original article, here.
About the Author[s]
Simple Heresy is a blog focused on a simple living – outside the mainstream.