Are we nearing the end of the age of literacy?

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” ~ George R.R. Martin

As we move from the text and screen web to the voice and spacial web (and possibly even into the age of a fully connected human Brainternet), we move one step closer to a world without the written word.

“Reading as we know it is engaged in an epic battle it has all but lost.” ~ Doug Lemov

If you can access information through voice commands and interact with the global Internet community through gesture, you no longer need to read and write to access knowledge or even to create and share information.

As such, the ability to read and write may not be an essential skill required for future generations to compete in the global economy. Reading and writing could go the way of Latin and become a relic of the Industrial era, no longer necessary for the future human society.

Not only that, our daily interactions with technology are changing our very minds (that is, how they work and evolve in addition to what we actually think about and how we process our very thoughts themselves). We are slowly losing the ability to concentrate on linear activities, making tasks like reading and writing that require undivided attention increasingly difficult for brains groomed for multi-tasking on a diet of constant hyper-visual stimulation. How can a book compete with the instant-gratification dopamine-kick that is social media validation?

“The long developmental process of learning to read deeply and well . . . rewired the brain, which transformed the nature of human thought”Maryanne Wolf, author of Reader, Come Home.

What happens when we can no longer sustain the concentration required to read a book – even if we want to?

And, if the process of learning to read re-wired the way humans think, how will a post-literate world re-shape again our thoughts and consciousness, both as individuals and as a species?

This is not an implausible future scenario. Indeed, the current trajectory of change and technology indicates that a post-literate future is a probable rather than a mere possible future.

And for me, that is a tragedy. What we gain in speed, convenience and breadth, we lose in depth, wisdom, and pleasure.

“Despite the enormous quantity of books, how few people read! And if one reads profitably, one would realise how much stupid stuff the vulgar herd is content to swallow every day.” ~ Voltaire

A life without reading a really good book is a life of missed opportunities and shallow understanding, a life at the mercy of the algorithms that direct your search and fill your feeds with what they think you ought to know next.

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