Literacy is dying, yet it must live on
March 7, 2017
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We live in a period where our ideas aren’t discovered individually; instead, they are shoved down our throats.
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, only 43 percent of American adults read a single piece of literature in 2015. That is the lowest in recent history. This includes novels, short stories, plays, and any form of poetry.
This decline in literacy can be partly explained by the changing times. Today, entertainment is easily accessible. With video streaming, social media, and mindless television, people do not have much incentive to go the local bookstore. I mean, who needs “The Catcher in the Rye” when you have “The Real Housewives of Atlanta?”
Unfortunately, this has led us to be a less educated society, void of ideas. The benefit of literature comes through the individual processes readers go through. As we read about the experiences and lives of others, we discover elements of ourselves that we never thought existed.
Americans have fallen into the trap of mindlessness. Entertainment such as literature has the incredible capability of provoking thought, yet our modern society is geared towards perceptual blindness, stimulus that requires nothing from the viewer. We need to become mindful again.
I believe the lack of literacy is a huge aspect of why America is currently divided in ideologies. We lack the ability to hear the other side, unable to have an educated discussion with those we disagree with. The reason for this is our inability to think critically.
The justification for the decay of thought can be exemplified through a simple comparison.
Let us analyze something that would be entertaining to the modern citizen: a video of a cat playing the piano: a perfect example of mindless stimulus. The audience laughs at the cat because they understand that cats are not supposed to play an instrument. No critical thought is needed to understand that. No work is done by the viewer.
Now take “Finnegans Wake” by James Joyce. This stream of consciousness novel is extremely difficult to comprehend; the reader must put in effort to derive meaning from Joyce’s text. But as the reader searches for answers, they consequently learn how to ponder, reflect, and mediate. This process is when we learn more about our condition.
We are in a period when our ideas and our ability to express them mean everything. Literature is the catalyst of our thoughts, the stimulus to our mind that will help our society prosper.