Reading is fundamental or is it?

I am a reader. I will read anything, mail, sides of cans, flyers, magazines, pamphlets.  Hey, even the small print on commercials is of interest to me and I will sometimes slow down the images in order to read it.  Ha!  I guess you could call that an obsession with the written word…..Or, you could chalk it up to the successful marketing of the organization called Reading is Fundamental (RIF) .About RIF.  I heard the slogan so much as a child that it became deeply embedded for which I am thankful.  Sadly, not everyone subscribes to this love of language and literacy, and it is becoming more and more obvious to those of us who DO care.

During my last stint in Corporate America, I noticed that while organizations are addicted to communication, in all forms, they rarely utilize them with any degree of success.   I say this because for the millions of emails sent in an average week, less than half of the staff would actually read them.  Ask an Exchange administrator about the enormous size of the servers required to hold email communication and enforced purging or subsequent restorals. Hmmm. Inevitably, I would find myself in scores of meetings where people arrived unprepared because they had failed to read the documentation which was sent to them.  Naturally, that made the meeting run longer as time was wasted reiterating the details of the ignored document.  The same could be said of emergency meetings. You just knew people had failed to read their Blackberrys or Pagers because they failed to show up, or sauntered in way past the start time.  Yes, I am resentful of the electronic leash too, but I guess that’s why they call it work.  

In truth, the belief that people DON’T read what is being disseminated to them is so firmly entrenched that management continually wastes valuable funds on technology promising to make it easier for people to access/read it. Ha! This very human tendency is pandered to by the creation of e-mail blasts, Voicemail blasts and POP messages to VoIP phones.  And not surprisingly, a similar phenomenon occurs the higher up you go as it seems upper management never reads, they just skim leaving it to us lesser mortals to explain what they are supposedly too busy to read.  I don’t need to underscore the valuable mistakes that are made because of this, i.e. operational mistakes and costly delays all attributed to someone’s failure to read some key piece of information. Go figure!

On the social front, we are pushed to communicate faster and more efficiently by wonderful technological advances but the same phenomenon is at work.  Facebook is supposed to put you in touch with people but what if they don’t, yeah you said it, READ.

How many times have you overheard, or had this conversation:

“Did you get my text?”  “No, I saw it was you and I just called you back.”

OR

“Did you get my Email?” “Um, no, sorry I’ve been busy today and my mailbox was full of messages. What do you need?”

OR

“Did you get my Voicemail?”  “Yeah, I did but I saw your number on the Caller Id and just called you back.” *Listening is apparently on the decline as well.

Or see my Post, get my Poke, or my Flirt etc. etc. etc.  People actually fight about missed messages, return receipts etc. as if the simple act of spoken misunderstandings was not enough.

Technology, for all its wonders, has negatively impacted our attention spans.  What attention span?  Are you still reading lol?   Clearly, there are too many things competing for attention and we get lazier and ever more creative in our attempts to escape these demands.  This is also true of movies, which have been shortened because long durations are iffy, no matter how good the story line is.  I was amazed that Avatar was over 2 hrs. until I factored in the lure of all the fantastic special effects.  Not so, with previous generations, the movies were longer and lacked special effects so the dialogue was riveting. Ah, but the appreciation of great dialogue requires focus.   The same can be said of long or complex documents and books. Less and less people want to read them simply because we are not used to focusing for long periods of time.   We want our information in sound bytes and snippets.  Teenagers have no compunction about telling you this, I am horrified to say.

I have heard this complaint voiced by teachers, parents, authors, psychologists etc.  Anyone who is 40+ remembers quite clearly when this behavior was not de rigeur and can see the negative effects that it is having on our society, Generation X in particular.  Generation X is most effected because they have never needed to require the balance to incorporate technological aids with in-depth focus.  So much of what they see is blinking, bleeping, abbreviated for light, speed and sound.  If it doesn’t shift continuously…it is boring. They don’t have to work to get information because it is so readily available, thanks to the Net. 

The Millions : Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains.

The birth of the Industrial Age was supposed to give man the ability to work less and enjoy the fruits of his labors LOL. Nope, we are working harder and spending less time with our children which means they spend more time with technology. Yet with all this well documented evidence and discourse, we seem hopeless to do anything about it.  It’s so very sad because reading is the key to so many of our life’s endeavors, understanding of self, history and communication with others that it could simply not be anything but fundamental. Even so, the love of literacy and the ability to focus is on the decline…

Read a good book lately? 😉

D.C. tops rankings for USA’s most literate cities – USATODAY.com.

P.S. – If this was too long for you, you are a member of the anti-RIF movement. Seek help before it is too late.

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6 thoughts on “Reading is fundamental or is it?”

  1. Great points, and powerful perpective! One of my BIGGEST pet peeves is when folks call me back reather than listen to my voicemail! What is that about? You’re right–it’s a reading and listening issue. We are an ADD world, due to all the techonological you mentioned. You are way more tech-savvy than moi! I’m too old and ADD to keep up with all of the current forms!

    1. 🙂 We are always on the run, are we not? I knew I wasn’t crazy lol. Seriously though, have discussed this with so many people of late and have been reading, or skimming, through some of the NY Times articles. Trying to pass the baton and light a fire under the young people in my family but competing against Wii is pretty hard lol.

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