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Books are dead

MBJ Editorial

Too many Americans do not read. Think illiteracy is a problem? Aliteracy, the problem of people who can read but don’t, is a growing — and disturbing — trend in our society.

Last week, the NDP Group released survey data showing that through the 1990s, Americans are reading printed books, magazines and newspapers less and less. The polling company tracked thousands of people and watched their everyday habits and found that in 1991, more than half of all Americans read 30 minutes or more a day, but that by 1999, that number had dropped to 45%.

Writing about these findings, Washington Post staff writer Linton Weeks asked Jim Trelease, author of “The Read-Aloud Handbook,” about the state of reading in the U.S.: People who have stopped reading, Trelease said, “base their decisions on what they used to know. “If you don’t read much, you really don’t know much. You’re dangerous.”

While the variety of news sources available online or on television has given birth to countless “information junkies,” it has also allowed us to create worlds where we only know about what we’re interested in knowing. New ideas are lost in the name of efficiency.

In a recent Christian Science Monitor book review of “Republic.com,” author Cass Sunstein said that the Internet has made it easier than ever to allow each of us to receive “filtered” versions of reality. Reviewer Merle Rubin wrote: “The Internet reader who can set his preferences in place beforehand, deliberately limit his focus and screening out unwanted information and ideas, poses — in Sunstein’s view — a threat to the future of democracy.”

What can be done to counter American aliteracy? Experts say that the simplest thing to do is to read to children. Create positive experiences with reading early, and people will keep reading, and a nation of readers is a goal which is worth the business community’s attention.

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