I go to the market. I see preschoolers sitting in shopping carts hooked into Ipods and other forms of electronics, watching cartoons, listening to music. I go to the doctor’s office. A young teen walks in, sits down and puts on earphones connected to something in her pocket. Another young person walks in, already plugged into his earphones.
According to the New York Times, studies link a drop in test scores to a decline in time spent reading. I am not as concerned about ‘test scores’ as I am about the fact I see electronics everywhere, at the park, at the beach, in airports, on airplanes and in places where a generation ago, people brought books and read.
According to a report based on an analysis of data from about two-dozen studies from the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Census Bureau, less than half of all Americans over 18 read. They no longer read novels, short stories, plays or poetry. There is a drop off in reading for pleasure as we progress from elementary to high school. The drop continues even through college. Some continue to read newspapers and magazines. But not enough.
Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts says, “we live in a society where the media does not recognize, celebrate or discuss reading, literature and authors.” In his 99-page report, Mr. Gioia described the data as “simple, consistent and alarming.”
I’m alarmed. A society that doesn’t read is susceptible to being manipulated by hearsay and propaganda. A society that doesn’t read, doesn’t think as clearly or as analytically as a society that reads and questions. An illiterate society doesn’t know how to gather information and make individual decisions. A society that doesn’t read, loses a valuable part of its culture. Worse, a society that doesn’t read, doesn’t write, doesn’t encourage writers, doesn’t buy books. If we lose our writers, we lose independent thought. We lose individual perspective. We run the risk of losing our intellectual freedom and maybe freedom itself…all for an electronic quick fix.