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It looks like my last post has stirred up some ripples. I thank you all for your input to a very complex topic.  Your comments certainly make an interesting forum, where there’s the exchange of ideas and the sharing of opposing views.  That this is even possible is basically because we all read and write.  It’s not too late to thank our teachers for this.

Indeed, the issue of reading is a complicated one.  On the outset, and from your comments, we see aspects dealing with the skill, the form, and the content of reading.  While at the same time, underlying are the very values we hold towards this seemingly simple act: What is reading after all?  How should it be taught in our schools and transmitted (or not) in our homes?  And, what should the content be in order to classify the act as such?

As someone who has involved in literacy research, I have seen recent academic studies taken the perspective of re-defining reading and writing not as a skill but a social practice. Our values sustain the act, or transform it. As we see the ubiquitous usage of the internet and digital communication, we are witnessing the power of technology changing our social values, lifestyle, interests, and how we spend our time.

The NEA surely had the effects of our technological age in mind, thus, an update on the reading habits of Americans.  The last one they did was in 2004.  As with any survey, the NEA Study has its limitations and confined by its own perspective and contextual stance.  And, within the parameters of the present study, they did not go into details the causes, but they did present the correlations of variables.  The results can be considered as reflections of our contemporary society.  The correlations of factors and the implications of the findings are significant enough for us to ponder.  Again, you can download the 98-page report in pdf format here (3.32 MB).

I welcome the progress we have made in digital and internet technology, bringing the world closer at the twitch of our finger, feeding us with instant knowledge and information. I congratulate those who attempt to bring the world of print to their readers by more convenient modes of delivery, such as transmitting reading materials in digital mode, and others who attempt to attract young readers through the creation of new kinds of books, such as graphic novels and manga’s. 

And yet…I lament the erosion of a part of our culture and civilization, the form of reading and writing as we still know it.  I’m concerned about the gradual obliteration of the “classics”, or the dying of the literary form. I lament to see the decline of appreciation and comprehension of literature, for I believe the humanity and universality in many of these works still speak in our world today.  I believe there’s an urgent need to create even more literary works in the face of technological domination.  There may not be a golden age of reading, but there has been a heritage of writing.

I worry about our next generation replacing the art and pleasure of book reading with offerings from other media. I’m also concerned about the English language disintegrating into cyber lingos, or replaced by sensational, action-packed anime. It is a phenomenon graver than just seeing the puzzled faces of our young as they look at an analog clock or try to use a dial phone. 

The progress we have made in technology does not mean that we should downplay the loss of a heritage.  That we can artificially make ice should not trivialize the disappearance of glaciers. The ushering in of electronic music should not obliterate the works of Mozart.  The two can co-exist…isn’t that the postmodern promise? 

No doubt, reading and writing will survive, since we still need to look up information, make lists, chat on-line…and blog.  But I regret to see the erosion of literary reading and the appreciation of literature, classic or contemporary, and may it not come to pass, the termination of its creation in the future, near or distant.

As another year draws to a close,  we may need to take stock of both our progress and our loss.  I’m not a doomsayer, but surveys like the NEA’s point to what seems like an irreversible trend.  While some may not see it as a gloomy path but just a shift of social practices and lifestyle, the survey results reflect our priorities and the shifting values in this day and age. 

Or, is it really irreversible? 

Maybe all is not lost.  At the start of a new year, I’d like to remain optimistic.  Maybe it begins with…yes, a New Year’s resolution on reading… 

A Happy New Year to All!

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