Thursday, February 23, 2006

The non-reading public

The other day I had a talk with my recitation students about the readings that they are supposed to be doing for our class, and I realized that almost none of them actually do the readings, which is somewhat expected. However, I also heard from them that none of them actually read at all, which I honestly don't know if I expected. In fact, none of them have any plans to read ever, if they can help it, because "reading is just not interesting", "I just hate reading things", etc. etc. Of course, I realize that reading is becoming relatively peripheral in contemporary life. In fact, I think we need to be clear-minded about this and admit to ourselves that this is a society that almost never reads books anymore, and which will probably be done with book reading altogether within a few generations.

However, this raises an interesting question about the future of the university: to wit, if we are, more or less, a non-reading, or aliterate society whose young people are non-readers, how can a cultural institution that is rooted in the close reading of texts possibly survive as such? Will the university phase out books, or students, or itself?

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