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COLUMN: The decline of reading and writing

I vividly recall one of my elementary school teachers talking about Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in Germany around 1440. History has recorded this event as one of the most significant moments of the millennium from 1000 to 2000 A.D. 

Robert Holt

For the first time, the world had the capability to mass produce written words rather than reproduction by individuals copying documents by hand. Suddenly, knowledge generated by the written word could be distributed to many people quickly and in a clear form most could read and interpret.

The Gutenberg printing press technology was credited with bringing about the Renaissance in Europe, especially in the century from 1500 to 1600. This period allowed critical thinking in the areas of art, architecture, religion, science, literature and politics.

To this day, historical records have been preserved on the pages of numerous books, journals, newspapers and magazines. Could these media be short-lived?

Today’s students spend most of their time looking at computer screens, viewing PowerPoint presentations, videos, and researching assignments easily found with a few clicks. There is very little reading for the sake of enjoyment. Classical literature and poetry seem foreign to them.

This lack of reading has led to a corresponding degradation of writing ability. Most teens and young adults communicate via text messages, which have a language code of their own. Symbols such as IMHO have replaced words like “in my humble opinion.” Since cursive writing is no longer taught in schools, many students have difficulty reading a note written in cursive.

Written documents are now stored on a variety of media including computer hard drives, external hard and thumb drives, CDs, and cloud storage, just to name a few. Where will we go in a few years to research historical records when there is no one, central depository?

Perhaps no one will care.

ROBERT N. HOLT, of Franklin, is a graduate of Franklin High School and Virginia Tech. He can be reached at hrobert@vt.edu.