Reading Rights

Magdalena Waz

Two things happened in the past three weeks that I thought were particularly fitting for discussion here:
During his talk, Ralph Nader said that reading was a dying art, blaming in part the Internet for giving us snippets of information that we see but do not properly digest. Immediately, I thought about how the Kindle may breach the chasm between Internet blurbs and bound paper. But I also thought about how the iPad – by adding millions and millions of gadgets to what could simply be a reading device – is trying to make an appealing thing appealing to more people.
And after I was done thinking about myself and what I had written, I thought about how difficult it is for me to read only one book at a time. When I was younger, I used to attribute it to my desire to read every book on the planet. That childish desire still exists, but now I’m reading more than one book at a time out of sheer necessity. And I’m certainly not remembering as much as I’m capable of remembering, which could perhaps mean that the Internet has addled my brain. And if it has, what do I do to fix it?
After class one evening, Professor Chaney told us that he was witnessing the death of a common culture. He said this mainly because we didn’t understand a lot of the historical tidbits he was bringing up in class. Who was Cicero? “Well, you know, he was… uh… Roman Empire?”
Cicero was probably someone I had read a little bit about in a history book, and later, I may have stumbled across his page on Wikipedia, continuing to a link in his article that I thought could also be interesting.
Just a few weeks ago, I was discussing with a friend those changes to the social studies curriculum made by the Texas Board of Education. I said that this was a reason for abandoning standardization because in the end it boiled down to the people who buy the most textbooks deciding what goes in them.
I failed to consider the other kind of standardization. It’s the kind that makes certain that I’ll know enough about Cicero to understand a reference to him. It’s the kind of standardization that Freshman Studies provides on a small scale. How many times have we heard mention of Plato after fall term of freshman year?
Standardization of curricula still exists, but perhaps now the standard is to read less, to get a smaller base of knowledge before any sort of specialized study. Isn’t that what the decreased general education requirements at this university show us?
I’m still torn on whether or not we have a dying common culture in the U.S. I feel more confident saying that the shift is more toward a culture that is easily consumed on the Internet. Consider iTunes, Hulu and Netflix.
Perhaps there isn’t time for everything and new technology has simply won what little time we have. It’s difficult to balance the old and the new, and it’s difficult to decide when the old is no longer necessary, but if deciding that means a continuation of the trend to stop reading altogether, I’d rather postpone the decision.