Saturday, April 27, 2019

Thank You For Reading!

Reading is essential to the maintenance of civilization!

Dear Reader:  Thank you for reading.  Not this blog, just reading in general.  So few people do it these days.  This fact was driven home to me when we listed the trailer for sale on eBay.  If you read the listing, you see it goes on for pages describing every damn thing I have replaced on it, all of its features, measurements, weight, towing requirements, and so forth.  I even attached five videos totaling nearly an hour overall, showing everything about the camper.

Yet, still, I get e-mails from people who just looked at the pictures and didn't bother to read.  "How much does it weight?"  they ask, "Can I tow this with my Prius?"   And so on and so forth.   They didn't bother to read before asking or even bidding, which is scary.

In the Ray Bradbury Novel Fahrenheit 451, he foretells of a future world that apparently isn't on the metric system.   Books are outlawed, and people get all their information from videos and comic books.  It sounds frighteningly like today.

Recently, we were shopping for a screen to put on our garage door.  In Florida, people screen in their garages so you can work in there (or use it as a porch) and keep out the bugs.   They sell everything from $29.95 crappy screens that stick on with velcro, to $3000 motorized monstrosities that flip up and down with a remote control.

What was interesting to us was that few of the websites promoting these products had any documentation accompanying them.   It was all photos and YouTube videos.  Instruction sheets, if any, were pictographs like IKEA uses, so people of any language or even the illiterate could follow what was going on.

To me, this is very scary.

Why?  The answer is simple.  When you read, you take little black squiggles on a piece of paper (or a screen) and form them into words in your head - a narrative, often with a voice.   From that, your brain creates images, ideas, and concepts - all in your head!   And you can do this at your own pace, taking time to digest information, analyze it, criticize it, or validate it.   If something seems confusing or just wrong, you can re-read it and think about it and process it further.   Reading promotes analytical thinking.

Pictures and videos do neither.   Pictures present one image, one idea, that is fixed.  There is little to interpret, only to see.  But at least with a picture, you can study it and absorb it at your leisure, perhaps picking up details over time.   Video is far worse, as it throws images at you at light speed.   While, perhaps not light speed, but 30 frames a second or so.   The stuff comes at you so fast, you have no time to process it, which is why most video is accompanied by a verbal or captioned narrative to frame what it is you are seeing.

Many people think, for example, that the video released by "Wikileaks" that they entitled "Collateral Murder" shows a bunch of helicopter pilots ruthlessly gunning down innocent civilians in Iraq.   That video was heavily edited, and the sound track was chopped up so that it no longer matched the video.  As a night-vision image, it was cloudy and muddled and subject to interpretation.   And to guide your interpretation, a misleading captioning was provided to "tell" you what was going on.    And it worked, too.   Many people I know who have watched that video are still convinced that it shows American soldiers laughing as they gun down children.  Today, we know that Wikileaks is part of a Russian disinformation campaign, designed to influence public opinion in the United States.  We should know better, but we don't.

Of course, radio is no better.  Right-wingers listen to these odious alternative radio stations that spread conspiracy theories that, when written down on paper sound ludicrous.    Parents of children gunned down in horrific crimes are "crises actors."   A pizza shop is a cover for a pedophile ring.   On the radio this sounds plausible, I guess.   This "information" is thrown at you, and before you have time to digest it, it is hammered down firmly.  No opposing views are presented.  No time is allowed for thinking or analyzing.

Lest you think I am picking on the right, the left does the same thing.  I mentioned before how my doctor believes a story on the "This American Lie" show on National People's Radio about how Calamari is made of pig rectum.   He heard it while riding his $10,000 bicycle (that I paid for half of) around our island, with his iPhone plugged into his ear buds.   It has to be true, because it validates his own internal narrative that eating meat is bad, and that the meat industry is corrupt and vile.

When I write this down here, though, it sound ludicrous, doesn't it?  But now you understand why I don't listen to NPR anymore.  They used to play music, and still do, at night sometimes.  But the rest of the time, it is talk, talk, talk.  And the talk is all political and designed to indoctrinate you into a particular way of thinking.

Sorry, but I don't put up with that from either Fox News or NPR.   Both the Times and the Post try to do this, of course, but in print, it is harder to get away with.   When I read an obviously biased article in print, it is so much easier to pick out the facts from the opinions.   This is, in short, why Sean Hannity is exposed for the fraud he is, when he tried to write an "opinion piece" - all he has to say are conclusory statements and wild accusations.

Sadly, as my experience listing the camper illustrates, reading is falling from favor.  The few people who still read tend to read less and less and read at a lower and lower grade level.   Popular novels on the bestseller lists are written at an 8th-grade level, if that.   The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown are now highbrow literature.  Perhaps not literally, but well, perhaps.

Many of the world's problems today, I think, can be traced to a lack of literacy.   People are all-too-willing to believe whatever they hear or see, but can't be bothered to read much.    Organizations like ISIS and the Republican Party don't recruit through the printed word, but through videos which hammer ideas again and again, not allowing any time for dissent or discussion.

Sadly, I don't see much of this changing anytime soon.  Reading is dead.  Ray Bradbury's prognostication has already come true.