Further indicia of the decrepitude of our once kingly culture is the decline of reading. This op-ed's intention is not to mete out these facts, but feel free to Google “decline of reading” if you're interested in the details. With my search the first nine links were as follows:
Why? Clearly digital media has been at the center of this. Sit an any airport waiting to board a flight and where you used to see people reading books, papers, and magazines, virtually everyone is buried in their smartphone. What are they looking at? Not “War and Peace”. They are looking at crap. Get on the plane and you see no books—just a bunch of mooncalfs watching movies or playing solitaire on their smartphones.
So, we can stipulate to the fact that the modern visual media has been a prime mover in the decline of reading.
But I think the problem started long before smartphones.
In my opinion, the fourth estate over the last generation or two has contributed more to the decline of reading, and western civilization as a whole, than digital media. In the big picture, certainly our dysfunctional government and the second class clowns that pretend to run it have been incontrovertibly central to our overall cultural decline; as well, the moneyed mountebanks of Wall Street, along with aluminum siding salesmen and TV evangelists.
But notwithstanding other factors, the press have skewered the concept of reading. The words they put to paper, in the collective, can be gently described as insipid drivel. With Web news, snippets of video get consumed more than the written word. The words are there but typically in succinct bites. And if it can't be consumed within a few minutes, our attention deprived brains move on to the next feckless fragment.
Go back several decades to the ascension of People Magazine and USA TODAY—photos with captions, along with just enough superficial written content to preserve integrity. Parallel with this has been the origination and explosive growth of infographics (not necessarily a bad thing). The major news magazines, National Geographic Magazine, and even the Pentagon established leadership positions to create graphical representations of information formerly presented in text.
Presidents have relied on charts and graphs to consume the information required to manage foreign policy. Time Magazine was a pioneer in infographics, with a team that eschewed words over visuals. Newsweek even engaged George Stephanopoulos to help illustrate the undocumented section of the White House where Bill Clinton had his Havatampa hoedown with Monica Lewinsky (he didn't inhale).
These events were the portent of our impending journalistic comedown. And, by the way, the best selling magazine at that time? TV Guide. What more to say?
But this is about real writers—the last bastion of the of the written word. This is about the storytellers writing for financial gain or to preserve memorable moments from their past for themselves, their progeny, and hopefully others.
Yes there are readers of real literature out there. But there's no disputing the fact that competing interactive and visual media have arrested the import of the written word. If Johannes Gutenberg was alive today he'd have assumed the fetal position.
All true writers dream about getting published. Visions dance in our heads about book signings, the New York Times best seller list, and—dare we dream to the max—having our literary lamb recommended by Oprah.
But there is a more ponderous reality, the existential essence of our literary devotions. At the soul of it all is our arrant yearning to be read. Would a plumber be a plumber if no one used the toilet he fixed? Would God be God if He hadn't created Man to appreciate His Divine Realm? And, if a writer wrote something but no one read it, would she really be a writer? Certainly making Oprah would foster readers. But getting recommended by Oprah isn't what drives us.
I submit that if just one stranger reads us, and appreciates what we've written, we shall have succeeded.