The current American relationship to reading and writing, by contrast, is best described not as illiterate but as a-literate. In 2002, the National Endowment for the Arts released a survey indicating that fewer than half of adult Americans had read any work of fiction or poetry in the preceding year—not even detective novels, bodice-ripper romances, or the “rapture” novels based on the Book of Revelation. Only 57 percent had read a nonfiction book. In this increasingly a-literate America, not only the enjoyment of reading but critical thinking itself is at risk. That Americans inhabit a less contemplative and judicious society than they did just four decades ago is arguable only to the ever-expanding group of infotainment marketers who stand to profit from the videoization of everything. The greater accessibility of information through computers and the Internet serves to foster the illusion that the ability to retrieve words and numbers with the click of a mouse also confers the capacity to judge whether those words and numbers represent truth, lies, or something in between. This illusion is not of course confined to America, but its effects are especially deleterious in a culture (unlike, say, that of France or Japan) with an endemic predilection for technological answers to nontechnological questions and an endemic suspicion of anything that smacks of intellectual elitism.
Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason (via heteroglossia)
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