Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit

Inner Workings of My Twisted Mind.

Elitism and the Kindle

I was reading the New Yorker the other day (that’s right, I’ve kept to that little resolution, thank you for the subscription Steve) and there was an article about school kids and how they are reading at an all time low.  Basically children are watching ‘educational’ DVDs and other interactive games instead of reading.  The New Yorker gave the statistic that these kids who are doing this stuff instead of reading have an exponentially lower vocabulary than kids who are reading.  The article doesn’t knock the DVDs and interactive games as a supplement to reading, but they definitely don’t replace reading. 
 
Basically the article went on to say that at the rate we’re going in the future (a somewhat closer future than we may imagine), if we haven’t caused the earth’s ecosystem to completely collapse and we’re still around, there will be an elite reading class of people, and the rest of people will be pretty much functionally illiterate.  The Others will be able to read things like email and they will be able to write, but they will not read books.  They simply won’t.  There will be a class of people that does read literature and everyone else will be basically Movie and TV watching, Blackberry text speaking drones. 
 
Needless to say I found this article to be beyond disturbing.  As long as education stays somewhat above water I am assuming that this will not be the case, but still.  The fact that many people don’t read for pleasure is an alarming fact.  I never really thought about it until I moved to L.A. and made friends out here…some of whom don’t read.  I’ve never had a friend that didn’t read for pleasure. Never.  And I guess I’m actually the weird one to have a pretty reader friendly family.  Even those of you (read dad) who read mostly crap still read.  And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to end up in some sort of uber-reader class of people.  Not to mention the fact that I don’t want to write anything that I can’t refer to other works of literature in; it would actually make it extremely hard to define certain things if you couldn’t call something that was Dickensian, Dickensian.  
So to coincide with this article, the Amazon Kindle has been making news waves as well.  If you don’t know what the Kindle is, it’s like an electronic reading machine.  You can download books to it, you can get a daily newspaper on it, you can order magazines on it.  It’s pretty cool in theory.  My problem is that I like my material books.  I love them in fact.  I like the satisfying feeling I get when I shut the last page of a book.  Also, as a good lit student, I write all over my books so that doesn’t really work on digital screens.  Right now it seems that the only books available on the Kindle are either recommended by Oprah Winfrey (you know how I feel about her) or on a Bestseller list.  Well, that’s all fine and dandy except for the fact that, generally speaking, books on bestseller lists in this country are crap.  I’m sorry, but David Baldacci and Patricia Cornwell are not books that I want to read.  By my logic, at the rate this Kindle book thing is going, we are not only going to have a non-reading group of people, but we will have a group of people that only read trash.  Yeah, I’m elitist when it comes to literature.  But I’m sorry, I have no respect for authors who write the same story with different characters in it over and over again.  That’s just a lack of imagination.  I can understand exploring the same themes from different angles, but the same story over and over, that’s no fun….it’s like CSI or Law and Order….BORING!!!
Sorry, got off topic there a little bit.  Anyway, the way I see it, the Kindle is trying to be like an iPod for books, but the great thing about books, unlike music, is that it actually is a material object with words on a page.  And let’s think about this for a second, when we’ve destroyed the planet and cockroaches are the only things left, and some other species of humanoid-like creatures, discovers books and a rosetta stone like key to decipher the different alphabets, they will be able to read what we’ve read.  That doesn’t work with the kindle if the battery has died after 6000 years.  And even duracell can’t claim that kind of life.
Peace, Love, and Elitism for All, 
Julia

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February 21, 2008 - Posted by | Books, Culture, Literature, Music

3 Comments »

  1. The reduction in child literacy is by design. Public education has been dumbed down due to the teacher unions power. Literacy is not the benchmark they use to measure success, but rather the next pay increase or number of off-days they can win during negotiations.

    I put more blame on the parents who have abdicated their role to educate their children. Of course they grew up with the boob-tube and video games, so they do not have the ability to transmit useful knowledge.

    Society is being controlled by powerful entities who prefer a dumbed-down populace. The less you know, the less you question. When 5 corporations control a majority of the media and news outlets, information can be stifled and censored. A dumb public will never find out the truth.

    Comment by johnnypeepers | February 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. You make an awfully large assumption that because Patricia Cornwell novels are popular, they and their ilk will be all that is available. With any new technology, it takes time for things to trickle down. Of course, since popular fiction makes money, anyone trying to make these type of readers economically viable will first focus on the moneymakes. But you are lacking in imagination if you do not see the long-term potential. Right now on the internet, there are sites like Gutenburg and Sacred Texts that have thousands of classic texts available, some of which have been near impossible to obtain for years. Is it not possible to envisage that someone will write a bit of simple code to convert those public domain texts into a format useable on an electronic reader?

    And whose to say their won’t be a call for obscure texts? Right now, in the current publishing model, if a book cannot sell X number of copies, it will go out of print. Imagine if there was no production overhead. Suddenly, books that made little or no money could in fact turn a profit for a publisher.

    Will these things come to pass? I do not know, but your prognostications are based on shaky reasoning.

    Comment by Bill | February 25, 2008 | Reply

  3. There are 110,000 books on the Kindle and they aren’t all bestsellers or Oprah recommendations. Yes, I was disappointed that I couldn’t get, say, Samantha Power’s new book and I can’t get The New Yorker yet. All in due time, I have a feeling. But there are still so many great books, including all of the classics, to chose from.

    Comment by Dick Diver | March 31, 2008 | Reply


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