Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Is Literacy the Next Obesity Crisis?

As the popular technology blog Engadget pointed out today, it's kind of ironic that you're reading this since, according to Apple Inc.'s CEO, Steve Jobs, no one reads anymore. Jobs to the New York Times on the reading device Kindle: "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."

Notice he says it twice in case those reading have trouble catching it the first time: people don't read anymore. As much as I'd like to call him to task, listing alternative reading materials like blogs and cereal boxes as proof that book consumption is not the only measure of literacy in a society, the truth is I think he's right. People don't read anymore. Not like they used to. Not like they should.

According to an article published January 1st of this still very new year by Misty Harris of the CanWest News Service, 31 percent of adults in Canada did not read a single book last year. Things get slightly less grim when you look at the portion of the population that did read at least one book. Of that group, the average number of books read was 20.

So is this a crisis? To compare, let's look at something that we've all recently agreed is: obesity. According to, 23 percent of adults in Canada fall into the category of obese. To put that in context, there are more Canadians who didn't read a book last year than there are who qualify as grossly overweight.

Obesity is not just the problem of the individual but also that of their society. Obesity can lead to pour poor health, which can render a person less able to contribute and more dependent on public resources such as health care. Pour Poor literacy can have a similar effect, and while a person's disinterest in books is by no means an indication that they are illiterate, it could be considered an indication of how their literacy is valued.

It's been said that some people suffering from obesity do so because they find healthy foods intimidating. It's not that they are incapable of eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, but their lack of experience in preparing them keeps them from ever trying. For those who can read but choose not to, they are likely experiencing a similar kind of intimidation.

This intimidation can lead people to develop a dependence on media other than literature to assimilate and consume information and entertainment. The more they do so, the less capable they become of engaging in literary activities. Literature itself then becomes undervalued, and its place in our society diminished. For information to disseminate honestly, it must disseminate diversely. If literacy is lost, so then is our level of assurance and means of testing that the messages we receive are true. In the face of this uncertainty, engagement is replaced with trust, criticism with acceptance. We no longer understand what is said, we simply believe what we're told.

31 percent of Canadian adults didn't read a book last year. I'd call that a crisis. If you read me.

No comments: