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Reading in Decline


Reading in Decline

by Kenneth Lyen

On 8 July 2004, the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) published their findings of a study, showing a dramatic decline in American adults reading literature. Fewer than half are reading novels, poetry and plays. The chairman of the NEA said that this decline in reading is a national crisis, and will lead to an impoverishment of cultural and civic life.

While I don’t have hard statistics in Singapore, I know from my personal observations, that fewer children and adults are reading fiction. Leisure time is being eroded by television, computer games, and internet activities. The result is that the ability of Singaporeans to express themselves coherently seems to be in decline. Admittedly this is anecdotal evidence, but it is surprising how many of my colleagues concur with this observation.

I used to pride myself that I had read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and The Notebook, before watching movies made from these books. But lately, I’m prepared to wait for the film to be made, rather than read such books as The Da Vinci Code or The Life of Pi.

The problem is that you do not know what you would have missed by not reading. Nor would you realise that you are not communicating accurately, not able to convey subtle shades of meaning, not able to express ironic humour or profound subtext. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

So it is an extremely hard sell to persuade others to read fiction. Especially if the salesman is also guilty of not reading. At the peak of my reading habit, I was consuming one novel every 2-3 weeks. Sadly, it is now down to one novel every 3 months or worse.

Trailing the decline in reading is a deterioration in spelling. This may have been catalysed in part by the advent of Internet’s I Seek You (ICQ) chatting, and the Short Message Service (SMS).

Language is a tool of thought. If we do not know how to use it proficiently, in the long run, we will not be able to manoeuvre our ideas skillfully, express ourselves effectively, and our lives will be exsiccated. And the sad thing is that we wouldn’t even notice it.