If You Can Read This…

My previous post contained an extended quote from Chris Hedges’s book, Empire of Illusion. Although I finished it a couple of weeks ago, I’ve gone back to the pages which I’ve marked for followup.  

In the first chapter called “The Illusion of Literacy,” Hedges makes a convincing argument that our media diets are constituent mostly of saccharine brain candy. The following is a particularly revealing paragraph on page 44; the statistics are sourced from the National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, the Literacy Company, and the U.S. Census Bureau:

Functional illiteracy in North America is epidemic. There are 7 million illiterate Americans. Another 27 million are unable to read well enough to complete a job application, and 30 million can’t read a simple sentence. There are some 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate–a figure that is growing by more than 2 million per year. A third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives, and neither do 42 percent of college graduates. In 2007, 80 percent of the families in the United States did not buy or read a book. 

As the internet becomes more visually-based, and in so doing coming to more closely resemble television, it seems logical that rates of illiteracy may continue to rise at an increasing rate.  As txt-patois becomes the standard, American children glued to their mobile devices lose the ability to spell and employ proper grammatical structure. Public discourse degenerates to an increasingly “accessible” level. Most frightening to me, the bar of what is deemed a “big word” by young, insipid sesquipedalophobes (those who fear big words), is being lowered. Constantly.

A question posed by Hedges regarding the obesity crisis: Might we enjoy fast food not only because it’s cheap, but because we order not from a menu but from a picture?


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