Reading the future

Literary adventures are worth your time

Trevor Thomas

By the time you’re six-years-old, you know that Franklin can count by twos and tie his shoes. By eight, you’ve clambered into The Magic Treehouse with Jack and Annie to save Camelot and you’ve been tangled in Charlotte’s Web. By 11, you’ve been sent off to Hogwarts and you’re mighty suspicious of that sinister Severus Snape. You’ve traipsed around with the Baudelaires despite Lemony Snicket’s warnings of impending gloom. 

At age 16, you’ve gone to court beside Atticus Finch and you’ve run around with Ponyboy and Sodapop in the 1950s. You might have even been under the surveillance of Big Brother with Winston Smith. 

But by age 20 or 25 or 30, there’s a good chance you haven’t saved any princesses, solved any mysteries, or cast any spells in a long time. And, by the looks of things, the average Canadian of the future will be even more disenchanted with reading for pleasure than we are today. 

According to Statista, the average Canadian adult watches just over 29 hours of television per week; statistics from trbimg.com indicate that only about five and a half hours a week are alloted to reading books. Those 29 hours of television don’t even incorporate other means of screen consumption – tablets, Internet usage, or the dozens of times you refresh your Instagram feed in a day. 

Although Employment and Social Development Canada indicates that approximately 96 per cent of Canadians are literate in a historical sense, the distribution among the five levels of literacy tells a different story. Only about half of Canadian adults reach the minimum requirement for being functionally literate, which is considered the lowest level of literacy to function successfully in present-day Canada. The same research indicates that, from 2003 to 2012, the functional levels of literacy are losing their readers to lower calibres. 

Many researchers, like professor of childhood development Maryanne Wolf, express sincere concern about the impact of heightened screen exposure and digitalization on literacy rates. In Proust and the Squid, Wolf emphasizes that learning how to read – and read well – significantly helps the brain develop the linguistic, visual, and cognitive skills that are key to its intellectual success. 

Wolf goes on to argue that the avid reader is more emotionally developed than the non-reader because they’ve felt Gatsby’s heartbreak and Anne Frank’s fear. Although the link between emotional development and reading is more defined for the young reader, it can’t hurt to step back from Buzzfeed to empathize with Elie Wiesel. 

If the old mantra “practice makes perfect” rings true, then dedicating less time to reading will mean a lowered proficiency. It’s even more worrying to consider the impact on a child’s developing brain when they choose screen consumption instead of refusing green eggs and ham alongside Sam- I-Am. 

This isn’t to say that we should start harnessing a fear for robot overlords now before it’s too late. Technology is, of course, convenient and entwined in our daily lives. There’s a good chance you’re reading this on a screen right now. But it is important to remember that reading is a form of nourishment that stimulates critical thinking and curiosity. 

Maybe it’s time you settle back into that reading chair and spend some time exploring the pages of a good book, even if it is just for nostalgia’s sake. Don’t worry, those infinite reruns of Friends will still be there tomorrow. 

Shanae still gets emotional that Snape’s Patronus is eternally a doe. She also writes at shanaeblaq.com

Published in Volume 70, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 8, 2015)

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