We Have Become a Digital Culture

In an article entitled “The Erosion of Deep Literacy” by Adam Garfinkle, published in National Affairs (number 43, Spring 2020, the author says: “Thoughtful Americans are realizing that the pervasive IT-revolution devices upon which we are increasingly dependent are affecting our society and culture in significant but as yet uncertain ways.

As with any tangle between technology and culture, empirical evidence is elusive, but two things, at least, are clear.” Garfinkle posits that “new digital technologies are decreasing social isolation, even if in other respects they may be increasing it. Taken together, these technologies may also be creating novel neural pathways, especially in developing young brains, that promise greater if different kinds of cognitive capacities, albeit capacities we cannot predict or even imagine with confidence.”

And he further states that due to technology, we now have a new situation:

“Something neurophysiological is happening to us, he argued, and we don’t know what it is. That must be the case because if there is any law of neurophysiology, it is that the brain wires itself continuously in accordance with its every experience.”

We have become a culture where just having the “gist” of the material has become sufficient, a world dominated by the Twitter feed and the Facebook post. Garfinkle describes in this article the term “deep literacy.” It is defined as the following: “Deep literacy is what happens when a reader engages with an extended piece of writing in such a way as to anticipate an author’s direction and meaning, and engages what one already knows in a dialectical process with the text. The result, with any luck, is a fusion of writer and reader, with the potential to bear original insight.”

Yes, we have become, for better or for worse, a digital culture. Print, as a medium, is dying and, as much as we should rightly lament this, there is nothing we can do. Without the internet, without digital access, in this COVID-19 shutdown phase, much learning could not even go on. But we can’t forget about books and, not only that, deep reading!

When was the last time that you read an entire book from cover to cover? Do you remember it? What was the feeling like when you engaged with a text, fully immersed yourself in the world, the ideas of the author?

By losing our habit of reading, of engaging in “deep literacy,” we are in grave danger as a human race. Garfinkle, speaking of college professors, writes: “We have reached a stage at which many professors dare not assign entire books or large parts of moderately challenging ones to undergraduates because they know they won’t read them.

“And while more Americans are graduating from four-year colleges than ever before, the educational standards of many of those institutions, and the distribution of study away from the humanities and social sciences, suggest that a concomitant rise in deep literacy has gone unrealized as the degree factories churn.”

Keep reading and, to take a phrase used by both the Lord and our Bishop, “Go out into the Deep” with our reading. If we don’t, the consequences could be very bad indeed for the future.

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