Saturday, August 9, 2008

On being a bibliocurmudgeon…

I'm a literacy curmudgeon. So, when I was asked for my opinion on the debate concerning the future of literacy (as reported July 27, 2008 in "Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?" By MOTOKO RICH), I gave a satisfactorily curmudgeonesque answer. Real, tangible books are a superior way of reading. Internet reading is more about "exposure" to a welter of "data", not about sustained attention to style, grammar, diction, much less to coherent plots or argumentation. These days a great many people consider a link to a supporting webpage as an argument in itself. When blogs make anyone and everyone a "writer", it's just like liberal education making everyone "talented" or "genius" in his or her "own way."

Books can certainly induce the same kind of mental atrophy that I think the Internet does (romance novels, junk fiction, etc.), but it simply takes more effort to put yourself through that in print than on the internet (i.e., borrowing/buying the book from among many at hand, toting it over time, flipping pages, etc.). The Internet adds a veneer of intellectualism to its basic mind-numbing core as TV. Because it is fundamentally TV, and thus a passive endeavor (note the paradox: I want to watch TV means I want to do nothing; I will to be dewilled, I choose passivity, tuning means unplugging, etc.), the Internet triggers all the responses of passive stimulation, yet seems to fill that mental void with words. But a string of pixels on the screen is not necessarily a meaningful, mentally enriching message. Neurally stimulating, sure, because the eyes move––but that is the great confusion of our age: that neural stimulation equates to mental and moral development. Traditionally if people wanted to "unwind" with a fluff book, they had to sit down with it, and, if the book were trivial enough, they would just fall asleep, or put it aside in favor of something more engaging.

Even the way the problem is framed in this article, I admit, is askew, as if reading were about "fun" primarily. Reading is a moral exercise, since it entails a nearly total investment of your consciousness, the portal to your soul, into an icon of another soul. Each book is an offering of the fruit of the soul; hence, each moment of reading is an act of quasi-spiritual communion. In this way, all books are demi-icons of the Scriptures themselves. Because God has ordained that the Bible can and does speak to His people as a material "sacramental" of spiritual truth, in turn all books, as material signposts, can transmit lesser truths at variously lesser analogical levels.

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