I read an article for my Publishing Process class this week. Actually, it’s more of an abstract for the article; actually, the article is more of a long essay, a compelling report about the decline of reading, not only in younger generations but also in adults. The report is called Reading at Risk, and that title is highly evocative of the situation facing us, as reading is indeed at risk, which is very, very bad.
The article is careful to mention that there is not any one reason for the decline of reading, which is accurate to say. There are tons of reasons, and many but not all of them, I would conjecture, have to do with the proliferation and advancement of technology. People don’t want to read anymore; they don’t need to, because there are other things to do and other ways to get the “same” content or to make it better in some way. But is any of it fruitful? Do the emerging technologies and methods of disseminating information hold any real value?
These questions are difficult for me to answer because, while I am continually annoyed by technology, I am also a huge proponent of it, and I do get a certain joy out of seeing the digital possibilities for information. I am excited by the digital age, and I do find value in it. Nevertheless, reading this literacy report, ironically, makes me realize that I am one of those people who read less, these days, if we’re talking paperback/hardback books, not digital information. And that’s disheartening. I always make the excuse that I’m busy with work or school, perhaps reading something for homework, which doesn’t really count because I have to do it (although, admittedly, being in a creative writing program does mean I get to read something “fun” sometimes, even if it is assigned to me). To an extent, these excuses are valid; I am busy. But I’m sure there are ways I could make more time to read.
In fact, I do manage to make some time to read. Actually, I read all the time, for fun, don’t I? On my computer, on my iPhone. But it’s all Internet surfing. News articles reported by Joe Six Pack from his couch, malnourished tidbits of useless information, hundreds of anemic tweets and status updates, Google search after Google Search, and all that jazz. In the digital world, I rarely read fiction or historical essays or anything else of any significant weight, anything we would deem “literature,” at least not literature in an academic sense. Only in a pamphlet, brochure, take-thirty-seconds-to-skim-this kind of way. It’s the kind of information people want when they need to know more about something (a product, a college, a service, etc.), served in bullet points and incomplete sentences, no longer than a couple of pages in length, total.
“Do you have any literature on ___?” the people say.
Well, no, if you want to know the truth. There is nothing here for you! Why would I write literature on a product/service? ;-)
Okay, I’m being facetious, playing with the multiple meanings of the word “literature,” but look where we are these days, and maybe you’ll understand my childish pouting about semantics. This dire scenario – commercialism not only in terms of literature sales but also in terms of marketable content – could be where literature is headed. That’s scary. What happened to head-scratching, heartbreaking, profound, literary prose? One day, literature will all be product-centric, with heavy product placement just like television already has, and printable coupons (because we’ll be reading everything on e-devices). Literature will one day exist solely to feed the bank accounts and accentuate the abs of Taylor Lautner – or some other shmuck who gets involved in the entertainment “biz” that is rapidly swallowing everything into it, including literature, like a blackhole. Literature will be (and already is, in some ways) just one more way to sell sex, perhaps disguised as abstinence-charged wholesomeness for 9-year-old girls with vampire fetishes.
Reading used to be fun and challenging. Now, apparently, it’s just challenging. I never thought it would get to this point, that I would become one of those people, but I am beginning to surprise myself. What happened to me? When did I stop reading (as much) for fun and start becoming a zombie like many other people out there? As a kid, I read all the time – sometimes even got in trouble for it. Even after I had a computer, I still read quite a lot. Maybe I got burnt out on reading (and also had no time for it) during undergrad. As an English degree holder who went to a rigorous liberal arts college, I can see how that would happen.
But what’s my excuse now? I’ve been out of undergrad for two years, and I still don’t read as much as I used to, should, want to. Need to. As a fiction writer, I need all the practice I can get. I need to read more of the greats, maybe even some of the not-so-greats, just to reassure myself that I can recognize what’s bad.
For now – and in the future, I fear – I exist to spread information (useful or otherwise), and to stimulate the economy. I am a zombie dollar, living on the precipice of Literacy Falls and feeding off of stupidity.
When will this reading apocalypse end for me?