Lamenting the decay of literacy

Over at wired.com is an excellent opinion piece that chimes strongly with a lot of my own feelings – namely that the ability to write coherent sentences, let alone full letters, essays or what ever else, is in a serious state of decline. Tony Long, aka ‘The Luddite’ points the finger at electronic messaging in all its forms, as well as to convoluted and obfuscatory business jargon. I would add the hours and hours of television the average person consumes to this list.

And it’s a fair point, I reckon. Take a random surf through the blogosphere, for instance, and you’ll find page after page of poorly spelled and grammatically incorrect invective. The subject matter may be fantastic (I can hardly criticise on that point), but the message is lost or obscured by a poor command of the written word. A glance at a few user forums or bulletin boards will inevitably reveal some appalling writing, with some people unwilling to break out of SMS text language even when there is no character limit. Every single day in my line of work, I meet university students who can’t even fill in a simple library joining form correctly. Shop signs, advertising copy, even political newsletters that come through my letterbox are of a literary standard that would have landed me in detention at age twelve, a mere 17 years ago.

And I’ll add another culprit to the list. Dyslexia. Now, I’m not refuting that this condition exists; there is significant evidence to show that it does. But I believe that diagnosis of it is very trigger-happy these days – anyone with a child who fails to deal well with written work at school immediately puts it down to some ‘learning disability’ (rather than the more likely laziness and lack of application), and there are a raft of groups out there who will cheerfully support these claims so that they can foist off expensive and profitable ‘teaching/learning aids’ on schools and parents alike. Dyslexia exists. But I can’t believe *that* many people have it; strange how the levels of it have risen so dramatically in recent times.

I’ll not even bother to get myself started on ‘ADHD’ and its cousins. I don’t have all night.

More disturbing still is how illiteracy is becoming a badge of pride in certain sections of the population. Largely because it is a way to avoid having to do almost anything for yourself; just say that your schooling failed you (rather than that you failed your schooling), and all of a sudden the machinery of the victim-culture will wrap you in cotton wool and take care of everything for you. The more that money is poured into ‘supporting’ (as opposed to educating) the illiterate, the greater the incidence of illiteracy will become.

People are lazy; I know this for a fact. I’m lazy – everyone I know is lazy. But if laziness is encouraged, it is impossible to break people out of complete and utter dependency on state support for the most simple of things. I’m not saying the illiterate should be made to feel ashamed. But I am saying they should be encouraged to learn at least a reasonable competence with the written word, lest we descend into a culture analogous to the Middle Ages, where the power to read and write was the province of the elites. Such a disparity in linguistic skill will bring about a similar distribution of power and wealth. If you cannot use language well, it can (and often is, in advertising and politics especially) be used to control you utterly.

Screaming into a barrel here, but hey. You have to say what you think.

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