The Common Status of Reading and Writing

Outside strict professional (i.e. largely for the sake of money-making) and academic (i.e., for many but not all, social climbing towards a better-earning professional position, and hence, ultimately again money-making) purposes, most people read to be entertained and most writers write to entertain. Some people write to communicate necessary ideas, even if such ideas are not generally of the ‘entertaining kind’, but they are more of a rare breed. Most commonly acclaimed books and most ‘Best Sellers’, as they are called in the industry, tend to be of the entertaining kind. Sensationalism, mystery, fantasy, fiction, romance, sexuality, ridicule, gossip, and conspiracy are some of the most popular types of reading and writing; they are entertaining, they trigger emotions in us, and they sell more easily. There are exceptions of course, but they are far and few in between. Seldom, books of outstanding quality and value-add make it through to common fame. Such books tend to standout and surpass entertainment books only over longer periods of time, and in many cases, through some form of academic push that ‘forces’ the many students who are going through the ranks of academia to read them (or at least purchase them but not actually read them in their entirety). The academic push is far from being utterly benign; serious books in academia are unfortunately often selected with some cultural and social bias (e.g., the French will predominantly select French authors and ideas, the Americans predominantly American authors and ideas, and so on and so forth; and institutions belonging to particular economic, political or religious schools of thought will only select self-serving books in subtle or openly propagandistic ways).

When television, radio, and the Internet did not exist, many people might have been drawn towards reading books and novels, as it was one of the fewer ways of being entertained. But in our days, with the constant emergence of new entertainment possibilities (thanks again to the money-making potential of the entertainment industry), being entertained through reading may have become for many people a reward not worth the effort. And so, the general interest in reading outside academic and professional spheres has been on the decline, at least in relative terms. Most of what is being written today in the form of books, essays, and papers is not being read enough; most does not penetrate or influence societies enough. Indeed, there are easier and quicker ways of being entertained, such as watching a movie that tells the gist of a book in 90mins or so – emotional roller coaster in condensed form. More so, thanks to new forms of writing over the Internet, long and focused reading has been replaced by short, quick and unfocused blips, which reduces even further an already weakened and lazy attention span in most of us.

It seems that reading serious thoughts and doing serious thinking are becoming more of a rarity, particularly outside academia and normal working hours. Note that we need not to read and write to do serious thinking, but elaborate thinking is very difficult without ultimately some form of reading and writing. We can justify to ourselves staying away from serious reading and writing by claiming that Technology today solves most of our daily preoccupations, and hence going back to making an effort to think is not necessary anymore, unless we stand to benefit monetarily from it in direct manners in a professional or academic setting. Indeed, most efforts in society are towards technological and material mastery. And that would be fine, if people did not regularly complain about unanswered questions in their lives, about disillusionments, about void and uncertainty, and about general dissatisfaction with the way things are. In other words, we want to be lazy, but we also desire that all our remaining problems be solved on their own, or by others, without any personal effort of ours.

I will continue to stand on the unpopular side against this degenerative evolution of our reading and writing habits, on the side of the long, serious, and developed, even if the usefulness of such might seem to be commonly questioned. One can indeed choose to forego serious thinking, to suppress any identity, and to walk blindly down a road set by others and by circumstances. But sooner or later, circumstances will eventually turn unfavourable; this almost always leads to wake-up calls in most of us and to the sudden need to search for the more serious things in life. A depersonalized way of living can be lived, but I doubt that more than very few can ultimately make peace with it – we can pretend that volition, self-esteem, self-respect, and expression of individuality are things without which we can do, but I have yet to see someone really going without them all of his/her life.

JHTF

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