When Marshall McLuhan first identified in the 1960s the possibility of a post-literate society in which a visual, individualistic print culture would be usurped by the aural and oral culture of electronic media, the Internet, high definition television and XBox weren’t even a gleam in futurists’ eyes.
Now, some observers say that possibility is a reality. Kids spend countless hours honing their reflexes on video games. Watching HDTV is almost as good as being there. And we all spend way too much time surfing the web.
Meantime, newspapers and magazines are struggling for readers. Books gather dust on shelves.
But even this so-called post-literate society requires a great deal of literacy. There are labels, instructions and guides to be read. And all those little symbols on your computer screen? They’re called words. Even websites like YouTube are choc-a-bloc with them. Not to mention email and text messages.
That’s why Thursday’s Family Literacy Day is so important.
If anything, our wired-up, plugged-in multimedia post-literate world has made literacy essential.
Yet according to Statistics Canada approximately nine million Canadian adults struggle with poor literacy skills.
Imagine being unable to read the instructions on the screen at the bank machine or gas pump. Imagine not understanding what’s printed on a cereal box, bottle of medicine, DVD case, shop sign or restaurant menu.
In fact, we do so much reading in our daily lives, it’s easy to take literacy for granted.
But none of us were born literate. We had to work at it. Ideally, we started that work early, when it seemed more like play, or sharing quality time with parents or siblings as they read stories to us, maybe even taught us some of the words so we could read along.
Literacy is a gift that needs to be shared. Be sure to pass it on.