Reading and Writing Are Under Attack By Technology That Enables Verbal Communication to Thrive
“There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.”
- Bertrand Russell
It is always assumed that reading and writing are basic skills necessary for success in business, academics, and in life. This is, of course, because written language has been the backbone of societal communication for more than a thousand years.
But will this always be true? Have we already entered the twilight of written communications? Is reading doomed to extinction?
After all, written language is a substitute for verbal communication. While children instinctively learn spoken languages – the same is not true for written languages. Writing and reading are manmade inventions and must be learned.
So what happens if no one wants to learn them anymore?
Imagine a world where writing and reading have become unnecessary. All information is conveyed through verbal communication – through video or audio feeds (made possible by technology and the internet). For example, computers would communicate driving instructions and road rules directly to drivers making “traffic signs” pointless. Books, novels, manuals, recipes, bills, letters, etc. are replaced with video and audio files as thin as paper that speak to users (and even answer questions through voice recognition software).
In this world when a consumer buys a new HD-TV at Best Buy, the box the television arrives in has a built in video display that shows the buyer how to set-it up (with easy to follow demonstrations – that can even go in slo-mo). The box will answer simple questions and for more complicated problems it will quickly hook up to the Internet for more comprehensive video and audio capabilities.
How about credit card bills that arrive on paper and are actually touch screen computers? The “paper” will tell the recipient how much they owe, balance information, offers for new products and services, and even allow them to ask questions and perform simple commands – like bill payment and change of address.
This is a world where speech becomes the primary form of communication and super smart portal devices (hello, iPhone) become the main tools in the exchange of ideas. When products – when things – can freely and intelligently interact with people, why will written communication be necessary?
In this world, writing and reading will go the way of Latin – the sole providence of intellectuals and academics.
Not if you consider the sorry state of literacy in our modern world. Computers and TV screens have already encroached on writing and reading. Literacy rates in the United States have been in fast decline for more than a decade. Consider the evidence:
- The National Assessment of Adult Literary found a steep drop in reading proficiency among college graduates during the 1990s. In 1992, 40 percent of college graduates scored “proficient” in literary, but one year later in 1993, the number dropped by 9 percent (to 31 percent).
- A 2004 study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that more than half of all U.S. adults don’t read any literature. The study also found that from 1982 to 2002 more than 20 million people stopped reading books for pleasure.
- A follow-up to the NEA report in 2007 found that 15-24 year olds watched TV on average two hours a day, but read less than 7 minutes per day. The report also found reading proficiency in that same age group fell 20 percent between 1992 and 2003.
Keep in mind that this decline is mostly voluntary. The United States has already reached the point where people don’t want to read for pleasure anymore. Video games have replaced comic books. Movies have replaced novels. The Internet has replaced reference books.
Reading and writing have been pushed out of households and into offices – but once email is replaced with speech mail and presentations become video conversations – reading and writing will begin to lose their hold on that venue as well. Hasn’t Powerpoint presentations already eroded thoughtful written discourse in favor of bullet points?
Once alternatives to reading and writing – made possible by the web and technology – become readily available, why won’t people completely abandon written language and return to the truest and easiest form of communication: verbal communication?
Nothing lasts forever. Just ask struggling book publishers. In a country with more than 300 million people – a bestseller is now considered a book that sells about 100,000 copies.
Is literacy standing on thin ice? Have we entered into the twilight years of reading and writing?
It’s scary to think so.
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Labels: Essay, literature, reading