This book is quite different than I expected, but it’s interesting. The author has some important insights on how the world has changed as we have evolved from an oral-based society to a print-based society, and now to an image-based society. I had never really considered how much those things have changed our society, and more surprisingly, changed the way we think. In the 1700s and 1800s:
Public figures were known largely by their written words, not by their looks or even their oratory. It is quite likely that most of the first fifteen presidents of the United States would not have been recognized had they passed the average citizen in the street. To think about these men was to think about what they had written.
[But now] Think of Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter or Billy Graham, or even Albert Einstein, and what will come to your mind is an image, a picture of a face…not their words. This is the difference between thinking in a word-centered culture and thinking in image-centered culture.
In early America, reading was not a casual thing, but a privilege, done intently, with serious purpose.
The modern idea of testing a reader’s “comprehension,” as distinct from something else a reader may be doing,* would have seemed an absurdity in 1790 or 1830 or 1860. What else was reading but comprehending? As far as we know, there did not exist such a thing as a “reading problem,” except, of course, for those who could not attend school.
And the literacy rate of early Americans is quite astounding. Practically everyone was a reader.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, published on January 10, 1776, sold more than 100,000 copies by March of the same year.In 1985, a book would have had to sell eight million copies (in two months) to match the proportion of the population Paine’s book attracted. The only communication events that could produce such collective attention in today’s America is the Superbowl.
I found that sort of sad. If you think back, how many plays (or even players….and do you even know what teams played?) from the 2000 Superbowl do you remember? That’s only 10 years ago. The things that modern Americans flock after in droves are so temporal, not at all enduring. Isn’t it sad that today, in our image-based, immediate-gratification society, that we no longer have an appetite for things that last?
At one time, advertising was an appeal to the intellect. People were expected to read the advantages of each product and then make an informed decision. Now advertisers often simply try to grab our attention without even mentioning the benefits of their product. They encourage us to connect with their brand and buy it without any deep thought. We are now exposed to logos, slogans, images and jingles that haunt our minds without giving much (if any) information about the product being advertised.
*I chuckled at this phrase: “comprehension, as distinct from something else a reader may be doing…” It just struck me really funny. For, indeed, what else would be the purpose of reading? I have never understood the many curriculum helps which include ‘reading comprehension’ and never felt a need to teach it. Anyone else have a reaction to this?