Reading for fun 3

This is a nice article from Isaac Marion. Isaac has been running the online textual variety show,, since 2003. He lives in Seattle, Washington, where he works various mundane jobs while trying to make his writing/music/art career take off.

Reading for fun

Recent studies have shown that across the board, in all mediums, Americans are reading for pleasure less than ever before. This isn’t just literature, novels, etc, this is all forms of the written word, including magazines, even the mighty Internet. Yes, that includes blogs. Less than one third of adults reported having read any literature in the past year not required for school or some other assignment.

Sounds shocking at first, but really, who didn’t see this coming?

In fact, those stats seem rather high to me. I think out of everyone I know, only 3 or 4 people would consider themselves regular readers. Sitting down with a book has become a quaint, old-fashioned novelty notion, almost an affectation, like smoking a pipe, collecting cigars, home brewing, bonsai trees, single malt scotch, and Civil War enthusiasm.

This is distressing to me, obviously, since 70%-80% of what I do with my life is based around writing, and therefore, by extension, reading. Am I training in an obsolete trade? Is my dream of becoming a successful writer kind of like my dream of becoming a successful blacksmith?

And, what exactly is causing this decline in literacy? The obvious answer is, not enough “Reading is FUN” posters in our libraries. How are people supposed to know, if they’re not told? I think if the statistics were examined you would find a very clear link between the decline of Elijah Wood “Reading is Hobbit-Forming!” posters and the decline of American reading. But although this is certainly a major contributing factor, there must be others, because I’ve viewed my fair share of pro-reading advertisements, and even I find myself reading far less than I used to. What is going on? Let’s take a look at a few of the elements of modern society that are edging out the written word…

Low cost and ease of production for reality shows featuring attractive, vapid automatons in crude parodies of life situations allows for vast explosion in quantity of TV shows, with each channel boasting dozens of similar shows, each with its own spinoffs, knockoffs, and webisodes, until total psychological saturation is achieved. All available brain space is filled with the televised thoughts of attractive, vapid automatons.

Straight to Video Knockoff Films
Having already watched every other film in Blockbuster, people turn to low-budget, nearly-homemade films released to coincide with similarly named, similarly themed theatrical films, ie, Transformers / Transmorphers, Beowulf / Beowolf

Video Blogs (See Youtube)
Weary of ingesting the inane thoughts of strangers by reading them in written text form, Americans turn to video blogs, or “Vlogs”, where they can listen to the inane thoughts of strangers while watching their faces from an uncomfortably close camera angle, and randomly assigning them celebrity status by public whim.

Sports/Video Games
Competitive entertainments allow bored Americans to work their reflexes and mental dexterity without actually doing anything, feel part of something without actually being part of something. People flock to Sports/Video Games as an outlet for their personal energies and as a general mental anesthesia. Helps relieve pressure of disposable income and time.

Beowulf: the IMAX 3D Experience
CGI animated film hurls arrows, spears, axes, blood, guts, and naked Angelina Jolie directly at the viewers, completely blowing our minds and making us never want to read, write, talk, or walk around ever again.

Endless supply of videos where lightsabers have been digitally placed in the hands of people or animals who were not previously holding lightsabers.

There seems to be a trend here. As part of the general movement away from difficulty and towards ease and instant gratification, humanity seems to be trying to avoid even the difficult senses. The popularity of video blogs shows that people would much rather have information poured into their brain through their ears than have to focus their eyes on letters and attempt to comprehend writing. Is the day too far off when even listening to information is considered too much effort? Too dull, too slow?

Probably just in time for the invention of direct-to-brain connections. Entertainment won’t require us to use our senses at all. It will just be dumped directly into our minds in a big, sticky, informationy gob. An entirely new form of blog will appear, not the web log, or the video log–the “brain log”, or….”blog”.


Leave a Comment:
  • celetus 2 January, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Properly, we should read for power. Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one’s hand.
    -Ezra Pound

  • Siderite 7 January, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I agree that people read less and less, but there are lots of other media available now: music, movies, games and, more important, social networking. People that would have written poetry or novels a few decades ago now can tell people their ideas as they come, they can choose to write lyrics to rock songs, write movie scripts or create (interactive) game stories.

    I personally use a PDA for reading. It sure beats carrying large volumes around or reading those awful travel pocket books. I download whatever I find interesting (after carefully reading a few reviews so I don’t totally waste my time) and I read while waiting in a queue, riding the bus or sitting in bed, revulsed by TV. But then I can watch TV, or better download a movie or play a game.

    Reading is not just an action, but a state of mind. You need time, space and people to leave you alone in your own world so you can feel what the author intended, undistracted by every-boring-day life. But as we become more in number and remain the same in person, this state of mind becomes a luxury.

    Face it: emotional gratification comes in so many flavours today that the main purpose of text media remains informative. It’s a lot easier and even more efficient to gobble down 1.8 hours of movie basic emotion, whether violence, sex or idle laughter, then Google for what you need to know.

  • John Madeira 10 January, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    I have often thought that there needed to be a better way to get information than reading printed words. How long has that technology been around? Yet last month Amazon came out with another printed word reader. Granted its better than unrolling scrolls, but it still requires a human to read printed words. The number of printed words being read per person is probably higher now than it ever was! Albeit, what is being read is not necessarily in book form. However, regardless of the medium, the art of expression can always be noticed and make a difference to the reader.

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