Back to The Future
Posted by lpearle on 23 March 2009
I’ve been reading a number of blog posts and articles talking about The Future. The Future of libraries. The Future of education. The Future of reading. Many of them start by talking about The Future as a post-literate society
Excuse me? A what?
What does “post-literate” mean? We’re all telepaths? No, apparently it means that we’re so wired, so technologically ept, so multimedia oriented that reading is, well, unnecessary (or something). Sorry, but to me that sounds like an illiterate society. It sounds like the society we read about in The Handmaid’s Tale, or what we’re trying to save those poor third-worlders from. And we this this is a good thing, why???
In Not So Distant Future and At ACRL, One Librarian Looks to the Very, Very, Distant Future (þ: Buffy) there are two different views of this Future.
In the first article, the loss of physical print is mourned – and I agree. In part it’s a health issue: we all know that computer screens refresh every so often, and that it’s done so quickly that we don’t “see” it, but it’s not the same as fixed print. Yet with more and more text going digital, we’re exposing our eyes to this and we have no idea what the long-term effects are going to be. It’s understandable why some magazines and newspapers are going out of print/out of business: the ad revenue is not there. On-line makes business sense. But this great experiment with all things digital may end up badly. Unless you’re an optometrist, in which case you’ll do quite nicely.
It’s not just a health question, it’s a digital divide question. There are those that cannot afford high-speed access at home, and who live in school districts with limited computers and limited access, and where the public libraries are either faced with budget/hour cuts or are so crowded that it’s impossible to get to their computers. How do these people stay current? Via tv only?
This takes me to the second article. In it, this post-reading society is lauded. Want to learn a language? Take a pill. This isn’t a Great Step Forward, though, is it? It’s a Great Leap Backward, to the days of Plato and hieroglyphs. An oral-based culture seems to be where we’ll head… and here’s the problem: if we rely on current trends to get us there, we’re in deep, deep trouble.
We all know that continuous partial attention is problematic. Jerry Ford famously couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time; more seriously, students cannot watch tv, text and do homework at the same time. Something (or all things) get less attention, less sinks in, less is internalized. Memorizing and internalizing information (by the now ill-favored By Rote method or otherwise) doesn’t happen if you’re continually changing your focus to another source of sensory input.
After the push to create a literate society, do we really want to go post literate?