Should I be Concerned?

pile of books

I hesitate in writing this. Pretention can easily be assumed when discussing certain things. I have a couple of degrees to back most of my assertions . . . which can also sound pretentious. Ugh. I do not know how start this. I will just say it and let the proverbial chips fall where they may. Our society is becoming less and less literate or even cerebral as a whole. We depend on machines to think for us: GPS to get us to a store that is four miles from our residence, phones to remind us to tell our significant others happy birthday, pings and dings on our watches to inform us of meetings and missed calls.

I often think about the past and the genius that lay only a few decades behind us, like the 1920’s. Centuries and millennia hold the same kinds of incredibly gifted people. Yes, I know we have brilliance in tiny pools around us now, but I am referring to our society as a whole and what I see as a pride of ignorance or fallacy of thinking that something like technological advancement reflects intellect as a whole. As a whole, a society will fall into the trap of believing they are much more advanced than even one generation before, based on what the society produces in material and/or wealth.

In his article, “Smart Society, Stupid People,” Jeffery Tucker cites F.A. Hayek, Austrian-British economist and philosopher, in relation to why we think ourselves much more intellectual than our predecessors. “To understand our civilization,” Hayek writes, “one must appreciate that the extended order resulted not from human design or intention but spontaneously: it arose from unintentionally conforming to certain traditional and largely moral practices, many of which men tend to dislike, whose significance they usually fail to understand, whose validity they cannot prove, and which have nonetheless fairly rapidly spread by means of an evolutionary selection — the comparative increase of population and wealth — of those groups that happened to follow them.”

So what brought me to the point of having to write this? Goodreads and book reviewers in general. Of course I know that book reviews do not encompass or reflect the nucleus of what is determined as cerebral, but it could be a tiny clue. How and what we read and digest is crucial to a constantly “evolving” society. Reading? Yes, reading. How is it possible to read and review an adverbially written book with poor flow and symmetry and give it a rave review accompanied by five stars? Compared to what? Five star writers are rare as a single term congressman. Up there in the thin air of five stars are names like Steinbeck, Vonnegut, O’Farrell, Hemmingway, Irving, Vanauken, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Lewis, Owens, Rowling, Tolkien . . . well, you get the idea.

This shaky idea of what is deemed a well-written book is not limited to Goodreads contributors. Many modern books line the shelves of brick and mortar stores wrapped in incredible, wordy praise. True? Unfortunately, many times it is not. Sure, most of excessive grandeur is to sell books, and of course a bad review will not be placed on a book cover, but why are certain words or lines used over and over when writing reviews, the kind of lines that immediately give me pause?

  • a literary giant . . . similar to Faulkner?
  • greatest horror writer to date . . . uh besides Poe?
  • a master of language . . . like Shakespeare?
  • brilliant story teller . . . on par with Steinbeck?
  • one to be remembered for the ages . . . parallel with Austin?
  • best book I’ve ever read . . . how many is that?

I am truly not trying to be smug or ostentatious. I am frustrated. Google a letter written by a twenty-something year old in the 1800’s compared to an email from the same age person today. Yes, I am a teacher and feel that I am running back and forth in front of the dam, sticking my fingers in the holes. The spoken and written language is on life support. Children roll by me in a store, stuffed in shopping carts, minds shut down, staring at cell phones, instead of engaged in conversation and taught how to express themselves. The window is small in language development. According to Elaine Shiver in her article, “Brain Development and Mastery of Language in the Early Childhood Years,” the opportunities during the course of the day to engage in face-to-face interaction, hear language being spoken, listen to the written word read aloud, and practice associating objects with words provide language experiences without undue stress or overstimulation . . . The window for syntax or grammar is open during the preschool years and may close as early as five or six years of age, while the window for adding new words never closes completely.

The devolvement of language has remained a constant; so if that is true, where is the stopping point? I guess we could end up grunting and pointing . . . or just texting someone who is standing in the same room with us . . . Oh, BTW, we already do that. OMG! NVM, it might  be too late.

13 thoughts on “Should I be Concerned?

  1. And where did we get the absurd idea that “all” 6 year olds should be able to do “X, Y, Z”? My eldest daughter didn’t get her reading cognizance until she was nearly 9. By 8th grade she was reading at college level and we couldn’t get her face put of books! She’s still much like that at age 36!! So-called technology is stupefying us as a society and were becoming illiterate zombies. We may be technologically “intelligent,” but we’ve become idiots in other ways that are too important.

  2. Yes, I would be concerned too. Of course, as we get older, our own cultural references stay anchored in the past, and we usually reach a point where we stop adding new ones. Not out of snobbery per se, but it just tends to be that way. So one day, we will find ourselves referencing something only to be met with a blank stare from a teenager, and you both perform that time-honoured mini-drama where you say “I can’t believe you’ve never heard of *insert famous person here*” and they perform a hundred eye rolls.

    However, that’s only a small sidebar in a tidal wave of mush. But perhaps we were always that mushy, as a species, and the internet has just lifted up the lino on so much mush. And now that IS snobbery. Guilty as charged. But I’ll make no apology.

    So to answer your question, as Dan did too, yes; we should be concerned. And the only answer to darkness is more light. More reading, more books, more questions answered. More answers questioned. More compassion. And, of course, more bikes.

  3. I review the books I read but not on Goodreads. I review them based on how much I enjoyed them. I read for the escape, the story and the characters. I sporadically give 5 stars but that means I couldn’t wait to read more and could hardly put it down. I don’t have the literary education to review based on language, structure and prose but I know a good story when I read one. Then again I don’t class myself as a critic or put my reviews on Goodreads or book covers.

    1. Yes, that’s the way most people do it and nothing wrong with that. I enjoy hearing that people are actually reading a book :). My issue is with people who are professionally reviewing books and/or how an “amateur” reviews a book with certain phrasing that puts a writer in the upper stratosphere of writers. I probably didn’t do a good job at relaying this, but my tiny observation was the correlation of our written and spoken language to the depths of what we read and the reflection on our society as a whole. Like an 18th Century fur trapper’s letter to his family, he had the equivalency of a 6th grade education, but his diction and symmetry are amazing. This letter is used an example in many education journals, so you can probably find it easily. Anyway, thank you for the comment. Again, I apologize if I sounded condescending in the post.

      1. Not at all. I guess I was trying to give a different perspective but also making the point that I don’t put myself out there as a critic. I enjoyed your prospective as a professional in your field.

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