The act of reading fosters habits of analysis, questioning, comprehension, and rationality. Television, with its emphasis on emotion, image, and speed, fails to contribute to the development of these key skills.
- The NCES (2000)
Our high respect for a well read person is praise enough for literature.
"Over the past dozen or so years, television and movie-makers have managed to blur the border between fact and fiction to an unprecedented degree. They pretend increasingly that their film is based on a true story. Every device possible, from computer-generated imagery to place names and dates thrown onto the screen seek to suspend the disbelief of historically illiterate audiences. Alarmingly, the new technology has coincided with a dramatic growth in conspiracy theories. " - Times Online (Jan 2009)
"Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason, says in an article in the Washington Post, "Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture; a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism."" - Psychology Today (July 2014)
In an Illiterate Society, Does Truth Matter?
"Critics have for many years inveighed against "false equivalence" or "false balance" in the mainstream press. This long crusade has finally achieved its grail, or at least a version of it: In this campaign season, political reporters have been shucking the old he-said-she-said formulation and directly declaring that certain claims are false. This new approach was signaled on Sunday, when, as James Fallows has noted, The New York Times, in a front-page story, flatly stated that a Romney ad was "falsely charging that Mr. Obama has 'quietly announced' plans to eliminate work and job training requirements for welfare beneficiaries."
"All these questions, at first, hinge on another: can anything diminish injury? In his recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker argues that, over 50 centuries, many forms of violence have subsided.Among the epochs he singles out for special scrutiny is a hundred-year period bridging the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries during which an array of brutal acts—executing accused witches, imprisoning debtors, torturing animals, torturing humans, inflicting the death penalty, enslaving fellow human beings—suddenly abated, even if they did not disappear."
"Attempting to account for “the sweeping change in everyday sensibilities” toward “the suffering in other living things” and for the protective laws that emerged during the Humanitarian Revolution, Pinker argues that the legal reforms were in some degree a product of increasing literacy. Reforms were immediately preceded by a startling increase in book production (e.g., in England, the number of publications rose from fewer than 500 per decade in 1600 to 2,000 per decade by 1700, and to 7,000 per decade by 1800) and by an equally startling surge in literacy, with the majority of Englishmen literate by the end of the seventeenth century, French by the end of the eighteenth, and Danish, Finnish, German, Icelandic, Scottish, Swedish, and Swiss by the end of the nineteenth century."
"When the test was last administered, in 1992, 40 percent of the nation's college graduates scored at the proficient level, meaning that they were able to read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences. But on the 2003 test, only 31 percent of the graduates demonstrated those high-level skills. There were 26.4 million college graduates." - The New York Times (Dec 2005)
"However, as Fred M. Hechinger points out, young students may be sounding out the words better, but they are actually understanding less. Children cannot comprehend, remember, and apply what is read. The 1986 NAEP report found, as have other recent assessments, that students' related problems in reading and expressing ideas in writing stem mainly from difficulty with verbal reasoning." - Excerpted from Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think And What We Can Do About It
As noted in Amusing Ourselves to Death, books brought about the "Age of Reason", TV on the other hand has brought about the "Age of Entertainment".
Attention-Deficit Citizenry. As Amusing Ourselves to Death points out debates, during the 1800's would last hours. The example he gave was a 7 hour debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas (and this was considered a short debate). Each speaker given at least one hour to speak at a time. Nowadays, debaters are allowed at most three minutes (so the audience doesn't get bored).
Good God, it isn't as simple as just picking up a book you laid down half a century ago. Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it is a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels any more. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily. Can you dance faster than the White Clown, shout louder than 'Mr. Gimmick' and the parlor 'families'? If you can, you'll win your way, Montag. In any event, you're a fool.
What we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.
For example, the following statements were presented to members of a mostly preliterate tribe in a remote area of the Soviet Union: "In the far north, where there is snow, all bears are white. Novaya Zembla is in the far north, and there is always snow there." Then these people were asked what color the bears are in Novaya Zembla. A typical response, as reported by Father Walter Ong in his book "Orality and Literacy": "I don't know. I've seen a black bear. I've never seen any others. Each locality has its own animals." These people could not solve this simplest of logical problems.
It is not that such preliterate people are less intelligent than we are. They simply think differently -- "situationally." When words are written down, not just enunciated, they are freed from the subjective situations and experiences ("I've seen a black bear") in which they were imbedded. Written words can be played with, analyzed, rearranged and organized into categories (black bears, white bears, places where there is always snow). The correspondences, connections or contradictions among various statements can be carefully examined. As investigators such as Ong and anthropologist Jack Goody have explained, our system of logic -- our ability to find principles that apply independently of situations -- is a product of literacy. This logic, which goes back to the Egyptians, Hebrews and Greeks, led to mathematics and philosophy and history. Among its accomplishments is our culture.
And when written words are set in print, they gain additional powers. Our sentences grow even less connected to our persons as they are spelled out in the interchangeable letters of movable type. Our thoughts grow more abstract, more removed from the situations in which we happen to find ourselves. Superstitions, biases and legendary characters like dragons and kings have difficulty fitting into these straight, precise lines of type. Charts, maps and columns of figures can be duplicated exactly for the first time. According to seminal media theorist Marshall McLuhan and historian Elizabeth Eisenstein, the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment were both products of the printing press.